WHY THE BUBBLE?
In case you haven’t noticed—and judging by the number of masks we see, many haven’t—we’re still in a pandemic. Through Jan. 29, more than 160 NCAA Division I games had been cancelled or postponed due to COVID outbreaks or concerns. Several teams, including the entire Ivy League, decided to sit this season out.
SO WHY EVEN HAVE THE TOURNAMENT?
Let’s be real: money. Last season, NCAA basketball was the only sport that had to cancel its annual championship—resulting in the loss of some $375 million in revenue for the NCAA, not to mention the financial hits taken by each individual program.
A LOGISTIC NIGHTMARE
Moving the entire tourney to the Indy area will involve coordinating 67 games for 68 teams over 19 days (March 18–April 5). Not to mention accommodations and training and practice facilities for student athletes, coaches, and other staff members. These men in their teens and early 20s will essentially be quarantined between the gym and their hotel for the duration or, at least, until their team loses, giving new meaning to the phrase March Madness.
A BRACKETOLOGY DREAM
Scheduling challenges are not new to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. In fact, having the entire tournament in one location will relieve the committee of at least one annual pain in its assignment—geography. In a typical year, after the top four seeds are selected, the rest of the brackets would be heavily impacted by the school’s proximity to the hosting site. That means the committee would often overrule what might be the best match-up in favor of keeping a school closer to home. But this year, they can lay out the bracket based almost purely on its overall rankings. This method is known as the S-curve.
Indianapolis was already slated to host this year’s Final Four, but the area has always been uniquely suited for this type of endeavor. While some of the preliminary and first-round games will be played at Purdue and IU, the bulk of action will occur in the ready-made metro confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Hinkle Fieldhouse, and Lucas Oil Stadium, where two courts will be set up simultaneously. Lucas Oil is also connected to the 2,500 downtown hotel rooms through the Convention Center, where practice, training, and meeting facilities will be set up, and the arena is also wired directly to IU Health, in case there are any sudden healthcare needs.
Hinkle Fieldhouse, the granddad of venues in this all-Indiana affair, will host its first NCAA tournament games since Butler’s home court was the site of the regionals in 1940. IU last had an NCAA tourney game on campus in 1981 and Purdue in 1980,
ONE SHINIER SHINING MOMENT
Despite the bumps that surely lay ahead on the hermetically sealed road to the Final Four, there’s a chance that the actual basketball might be as good as it has been in decades. First, there’s the S-curve which will allow more competitive balance in the seedings. Second, when the NBA conducted its playoffs in The Bubble last summer, many people commented on the higher quality action, which they partially attributed to players not having to travel across the country between games.
ODDS-ON FAVORITE TO TAKE IT ALL?
Indianapolis. Tourism gurus say the games will have a $100-million impact on the local economy, plus the city will get a crazy amount of TV time with estimates ranging between 500 and 1000 hours of broadcast time.