Editorial: Hosting the entire March Madness could be one of city’s great moments

Our COVID-weary city, especially our downtown, needs a shot in the arm. It’s hard to imagine something that would provide that lift and be more exhilarating and joyful than hosting all 67 games of March Madness.

The NCAA revealed this week that very idea is under discussion with city and state officials. The city had been on tap to host the Final Four, but NCAA officials began considering staging the whole tournament here after concluding that holding preliminary rounds at 13 locations across the country while also protecting the health of players and staff wasn’t feasible.

Kudos go to the Indiana Sports Corp. for putting the city in this enviable position. Rather than sulking over the myriad setbacks the organization has faced since March, when the virus became widespread, it went on the offensive this fall and began marketing the Indiana Convention Center as a virus-free bubble for college basketball games, perhaps even entire conference seasons.

That pitch called for staging games at the Indiana Convention Center, but the March Madness plan could be broader, perhaps incorporating games at the storied Hinkle Fieldhouse or other venues in the region.

Lots of questions remain unanswered, including whether fans would be allowed to attend games. But what’s already clear is that pulling off the entire tournament amid a pandemic would be a monstrous undertaking.

In addition to basic logistics, such as securing hotel rooms and scheduling practice facilities, officials would need to line up sufficient medical and virus-testing resources and put in place protocols that minimize the risk of a virus outbreak.

We see the daunting challenges as part of the appeal of taking on the tournament. Indianapolis prides itself on punching above its weight. What better way to rebuild our beaten-down psyche than by single-handedly hosting one of the world’s great sporting events?

But if the city is going to host the tournament, it must do so with a clear-eyed awareness that much work needs to be done—especially downtown, where many restaurants have gone out of business and many buildings are boarded up.

We aren’t knocking landlords for protecting their properties after suffering damage in the protests over racial equity that turned violent in late May. But the optics are horrendous, and now that the contentious Nov. 3 election is over and now that officials have announced there will be no indictments in the death of Dreasjon Reed, it’s time for the plywood to come down.

Downtown Indy and other downtown stakeholders also have lots of work to do to ensure that visitors enjoy a first-class experience. One idea worthy of consideration: opening pop-up restaurants, manned by some of the city’s top chefs.

We’re all sick of the pandemic and the way it has restricted the way we live and cost so many lives. But amid all the adversity, March Madness has the potential to be a welcome diversion for the entire nation. We’re eager to see the city seize this opportunity to shine like never before.•


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