Lucas Oil Stadium (IBJ file photo)
Lucas Oil Stadium (IBJ file photo)

The NCAA on Monday announced official plans to bring the entire Division I men’s basketball tournament to central Indiana this year, confirming earlier reports.

The Indianapolis-based organization announced details for the 67-game tournament, including plans for a controlled environment similar to what professional sports leagues like the NBA and WNBA used to complete their respective seasons in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Games will be hosted at venues across central Indiana in March and April, with the Marion County Public Health Department giving final approval to the NCAA’s plans.

The NCAA plans to hold games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, as well as some first-round games at Assembly Hall in Bloomington and Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

Ball State University, Butler University, IUPUI, the Horizon League, Indiana University and Purdue University will serve as hosts for the venues, respectively. Lucas Oil Stadium will house two courts, but only one game will be played at a time.

The Indiana Convention Center will be used as a practice facility and downtown’s Marriott-brand hotels will host most of the teams participating in the tournament. About 2,500 hotel rooms will be used for student athletes and team members.

Tentatively, all games—including the Final Four—will be played without fans present, although immediate family will likely be permitted. The organization said it is “closely monitoring” the pandemic and will continue evaluating the feasibility of some fan attendance at some of the games through its partnership with the health department.

The tournament is still expected to run on the same timetable for which it had originally been scheduled, starting in mid-March. Indianapolis was already expected to host the Final Four on April 3-5, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium and those dates will be maintained, as will the standard 68-team field.

CBS Sports and Turner Sports, through TBS, TNT, and truTV, will still broadcast all 67 games.

The deal for the area to host the entire tournament marks the first time in the event’s history that all games will be played in one specific region.

The deal between the NCAA and Indianapolis comes more than one month after the organization said it would not move forward with staging the preliminary rounds of the annual tournament at more than a dozen different locations around the country due to health and safety concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, in a written statement. “With the direction of the men’s basketball committee, we are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented. We’re fortunate to have neighbors and partners in Indianapolis and surrounding communities who not only love the game of basketball as much as anyone else in the country but have a storied history when it comes to staging major sporting events.”

The NCAA is continuing to work with the city and the Marion County Public Health Department to finalize COVID-19 protocols for participating teams, media and staff members, and is withholding those details until a clearer picture forms about the state of the pandemic when the tournament takes place.

The NCAA said it has partnered with a local health care provider to administer COVID-19 testing in the controlled environment for players, coaching staffs, administrators and officials. It did not immediately identify the provider.

“This is going to be complicated and difficult; there’s no question about that,” Gavitt said. “We appreciate the collaboration among the men’s basketball committee and staff, our hosts and local organizers, the staffs at each practice and competition venue, and our broadcast and corporate partners. We will all pull together and stage a terrific national championship.”

Indianapolis, West Lafayette and Bloomington aren’t the only cities in the state that will see tournament action. Evansville will host the Division II men’s basketball championship, while Fort Wayne will host the Division III championship.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the city did not provide a direct financial subsidy to secure the tournament, and instead is offering a variety of services—including public safety and public works—as it does for other major events. Hogsett said he did not have an exact dollar figure value for those services.

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