The Marion County Public Health Department said it will allow teams participating in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament to have up to 420 fans at their games—all of whom must be related to a team member.
The decision is one of several the health department shared Wednesday afternoon, and comes two days after the Indianapolis-based NCAA said it plans to stage the entire 67-game tournament in central Indiana.
“No final decision” has been made by local health officials as to whether additional spectators will be permitted at any of the games throughout the tournament.
A source familiar with the NCAA’s deal with the city said hopes of permitting additional fans at games is centered on the Final Four in particular, rather than earlier-round games—although it wouldn’t be opposed to allowing fans at those games if the health crisis has eased enough at that point.
“The focus is really on completing the first 64 games,” the source said, “with a hope the situation will allow for more fans during the Final Four.”
It’s likely no decision will be announced about whether fans will be allowed at the games for several more weeks.
Up to six family members for each team member will be permitted to attend the games, but they will be kept isolated from the participants throughout the tournament. Families will be required to sit in distanced clusters and wear masks at each venue.
Health officials say they are continuing to work with the NCAA and its medical advisory committee to finalize stringent health and safety protocols for the tournament, which is set to tip off in mid-March and run through the first weekend in April.
But some protocols are already set, including requirements for travel to Marion County and how teams will manage their operations throughout the tournament.
For example, the health department said all participants will be required to social distance and wear masks “at all times, except during practice and games.”
Members of participating teams will have to complete seven consecutive negative COVID-19 tests prior to arriving in Indianapolis. If an individual does test positive prior to arrival, they won’t be able to travel until they complete a 10-day isolation period, as mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Participants will also be tested daily throughout the tournament (they’ll have to quarantine in their hotel rooms until completing two consecutive negative tests), with the NCAA requiring teams to provide daily assessment of symptom screenings. All on-site testing—done through the PCR method—is expected to be conducted by IU Health.
Teams are not permitted to interact with anyone in-person outside their travel party, and can only begin practicing at the Indiana Convention Center once they complete a second negative test.
In addition, the NCAA said Wednesday all participants will be required to wear movement devices from Kinexon, a German company that specializes in deploying wearable technology for athletics and other industries.
The devices—coupled with video—will allow the NCAA to monitor when a wearer comes within six feet of a person found to be infected with COVID-19. The information will be used for contact tracing, with anyone who is a close contact required to quarantine.
“Our emphasis is on the safety and well-being of everyone participating in the event,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline said in written remarks. “By working with local health officials to develop protocols and administer COVID-19 testing, we are confident we will provide a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, administrators and officials.”