Calling all sports fanatics, perfect bracket-seekers and dedicated alumni: mark your calendars for Sunday, March 14 and pick your poison because March Madness is back! As one of the biggest, most exciting and fun events in all of sports, March Madness highlights the top 68 teams in Division I basketball in one single-elimination tournament. There are seven rounds of competition that are sure to break records, upset standings and induce a frenzy of emotions in even the most undedicated and confused individuals. After a long and competitive season, teams hope to advance to the Final Four, where the champions of each of the four regions compete to be named the National Champions. In a similar way, the last year has tested individual skill, as the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down. There were many upsets and lead changes; a year later, it looks like the ball is back in our court and the return of one the most anticipated events of the year has certainly given us the home court advantage. Coaches often use the term defense as an acronym standing for “Demanding Excellence From Everyone No Selfish Exceptions.” The NCAA is no different, and this year, they have not disappointed.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the practices deemed socially acceptable were very different. Hugging a relative, spending time with friends and family and physically attending work and school are simply a few social norms that have been reformed in order to eliminate the spread of the virus. As the nation reflects on the last year, individuals will certainly remember how quickly the world turned upside down and how drastically different everyday routines have become. Athletes and coaches will specifically remember the moment they learned that their season had been cancelled—a shocking yet disappointing moment for all, as sport is not just an activity; it is a lifestyle for many, especially at the collegiate and professional levels. The only people who may have been more devastated by the news than the athletes themselves were the fans and spectators who annually anticipate March Madness.
For the first time in 82 years, March Madness was cancelled in response to concerns about the coronavirus. The annual Division I single-elimination basketball tournament is not only pivotal for the players and coaches involved, but it is equally as important to fans and spectators who mark their calendars for “Selection Sunday.” On Selection Sunday, the committee announces the 68 teams who advance to the tournament and their seedings; following this announcement, individuals varying in age and overall interests carefully craft their brackets. For some, the upset in the second round is everything; for others, the only thing that matters is a victory for their alma mater. Regardless of the motivator and the outcome, the cancellation of the most entertaining and competitive tournament in sports meant “no dance for Cinderella teams, no shining moment for a victor to ceremoniously cut down the basketball net; and, of course, no chance to win $1 million a year for life from billionaire Warren Buffet for a perfect bracket,” according to a Forbes article.
While the cancellation of March Madness was emotionally wrecking for all parties involved, the NCAA suffered a tremendous loss financially. In the 2018-2019 season, the March frenzy produced $1 billion for the NCAA; networks like CBS Sports and Turner Sports also suffered, as they lost nearly $1.32 billion from the lack of advertisements expected from companies like AT&T, General Motors and Coca-Cola. This year, though, numbers are expected to increase, as the tournament is expected to generate great revenue, even with the COVID-19 protocols that have been enacted to ensure safety and efficiency for all.
For the first time ever, the NCAA will host the entire tournament in one geographic location. This year, Indianapolis will host the men’s basketball championship, while San Antonio will host the women’s. Both the men’s and women’s teams who are involved in the competition will be housed on dedicated hotel floors with physically distanced meeting and dining rooms, as well as secure transportation to and from competition venues. Furthermore, only one game at a time will be played. Not only are there logistical changes to the way in which teams navigate their stay, but there have also been adjustments to bracket play as well. The top four seeds will be handled the same and so, too, will the Final Four. The changes appear in the way the rankings typically account for geography; therefore, the “S-curve” will be used to fill out the bracket. These guidelines and new protocols are sure to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in this “superspreader” event, however, the big question is “are fans allowed”? According to the NCAA, fans will be present for every round of the men’s tournament, though only the later rounds of the women’s tournament—starting with the Sweet 16—will have spectators. The statement released by the NCAA explains how the decision to allow fans was made “in conjunction with state and local health authorities.” Furthermore, their “number one priority for decisions around the tournament continues to be the safety and well-being of everyone participating in the event.” The men’s tournament venue will be filled to 25 percent capacity, while the women’s will be filled to 17 percent. While there remains some heated debate about whether having spectators at all is the safest and smartest decision, there is no doubt that the return of March Madness will not fail to entertain and uplift spirits during this difficult time. Be sure to carefully and strategically fill out a bracket on Sunday, March 14 in order to have a chance to cast an upset, bleed school colors or win the perfect bracket challenge.