By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him)
Every March comes the madness, that is the NCAA March Madness postseason basketball championship tournament. Normally by this point people would be thinking about the teams they select for their brackets and what not but this year we are all wondering what’s going to happen given the uncertainty Covid-19 pandemic. With all the lockdowns, social distancing and endless political drama, we could all use some mindless betting on college athletes as a much-needed distraction to keep the madness limited to basketball.
Fortunately, the NCAA announced that March Madness will still be happening (pending any “unforeseen Covid-19 interruptions” with the Atlantic 10’s tournament starting March 6th-8th while the West Coast Conference is still yet to be decided based on a “unique seeding formula.” According to the NCAA, the WCC will seed teams for the tournament based on their KenPom ranking which is a sport analytics website since the league’s teams haven’t been able to play a consistent schedule due to game disruptions related to the pandemic.
The actual March Madness rounds will kick off on March 18th for the men’s tournament and March 21st for the women’s tournament.
The tournament will also take a slightly different form, normally the teams travel around the country but this year all the games will be held in the same city in multiple venues with the men’s in Indianapolis and the women’s in San Antonio.
For both the men’s and women’s tournaments, there will be a limited number of spectators welcome to watch the games live. For the men’s tournament this means that fans will be present at every round with 25% of total capacity whereas for the women’s tournament they’ll only be welcome during the later rounds at 17% capacity (not really sure why the difference though). Masks, social distancing and testing requirements will all be implanted for each game. According to the NCAA press release, the decision to allow fans was made ““in conjunction with state and local health authorities” and that the “number one priority for decisions around the tournament continues to be the safety and well-being of everyone participating in the event.” The decision to allow spectators has drawn some criticism from experts who argue that they risk prolonging the pandemic by allowing spectators in a tournament that already is risky. With the new variants of the coronavirus making, it easier to spread, there is a risk of creating super spreader type event if proper protocols are not followed.
After the 2020 March Madness was cancelled, even a tournament that is reduced in spectator capacity is still a welcome respite to the stress and drama from the lockdowns. Hopefully this will help us keep the madness limited to March Madness.