Update: Dozens of teams already in town as last-minute tourney prep falls into place

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Downtown hotels and sports venues were putting the finishing touches on their properties on Sunday as college basketball teams began arriving for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament—and by the end of Sunday some 46 teams were in Indianapolis for the unprecedented tournament.

The NCAA announced its 68 selections for the tournament Sunday evening.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect additional teams arriving in the city.)

Signage was installed throughout the five “bubble” hotels overnight Saturday, while the Indiana Convention Center started removing the floors that had been used at a massive Nike youth volleyball tournament this weekend. They are being replaced with 12 NCAA practice courts.

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Crews at Lucas Oil Stadium were removing the conference-branded court on Sunday—once the Big Ten Conference tournament had ended—to make way for a second court with NCAA branding.

And at Bankers Life Fieldhouse—which sported a Big Ten court for the women’s tournament since March 9—workers shifted back to an Indiana Pacers court ahead of the team’s Wednesday home game. The NCAA court will be installed after that game, ahead of first-round games on Friday.

Visit Indy had planned to closely monitor the Selection Show Sunday night, said Vice President Chris Gahl, to determine how the city can best capitalize on media attention that will come with each game—including how different time slots could affect fan attendance.

He said that, with a lot of Midwestern teams in this year’s tournament field, the economic impact could be bolstered by strong, traveling fan bases. Nine Big Ten teams made the tournament and stayed in Indianapolis following the conference games.

Additionally, Gahl said, Visit Indy is in “constant communication” with the NCAA and the Indiana Sports Corp.—the local organization leading the city’s hosting efforts.

“From a Visit Indy perspective, we have our playbook in hand and—from methodically working through it day by day, hour by hour—we know the direction we need to go and the lane that we’re in,” Gahl said. “It’s really just constant communication. The Indiana Sports Corp. is our point guard, so we’re also taking [their lead], and rallying around their needs as this week unfolds.”

Visit Indy is also planning to invite additional meeting planners to the city for games through at least the Elite Eight, on top of those it has already invited in hopes of bolstering the city’s convention calendar in the years ahead.

And Susie Townsend, Visit Indy’s senior vice president of visitor experience, checked into the Hyatt Regency on Sunday afternoon to be part of the tournament’s controlled environment. During her time in the bubble, Townsend—who has worked at Visit Indy for more than 30 years—will help run the food program that will feed athletes and other tournament participants.

By 1 p.m. Sunday, six teams had checked into the JW Marriott; another 20 are expected to use the hotel. Throughout the hotel’s lobby—which will have little traffic over the next few weeks—columns and walls are adorned with NCAA signage, including some that will be updated as the tournament progresses.

Sport Graphics, which produced the record-breaking tournament bracket on the exterior of the building, will begin adding team names Monday.

Teams participating in the Nike Mideast Qualifier volleyball tournament and other hotel guests were required to check out by 11 a.m., to allow the hotel time to begin cleaning rooms for NCAA teams. The tournament—which brought 18,000 people to the city over the weekend—helped the JW hit an all-time record 96% occupancy over the weekend.

But that record will soon be broken, as the NCAA will utilize the hotel’s full capacity for about 10 days, before it reopens to the public on March 23. The JW Marriott opened in 2011.

Phil Ray, the property’s general manager, said he doesn’t expect to get much rest through at least Tuesday, when the tournament bracket will be locked; if a team drops out because of coronavirus issues, it can be replaced by the selection committee until Tuesday at 6 p.m.

“Each team will have a tremendous amount of questions, just trying to understand how this is all going to work,” he said. “We’ll all be trying to get information to them on their arrival, and protocols for what they’ll do when they get here.”

The JW and the other hotels—Downtown Marriott Indianapolis, Le Meridién, the Hyatt Regency and the Westin—became controlled environments, closed to the public, at 3 p.m.

Teams are expected to use a non-public entrance of the hotel and go straight to their respective meeting rooms, which are set up in a socially distanced manner. When there, they’ll receive a briefing on their quarantine period, get their first COVID test, and receive their hotel room keys. No participants will be allowed in the public areas of the hotel during their stay.

Ray said the JW Marriott has about 350 people—about two-thirds of its pre-COVID workforce—on staff for the early weeks of the tournament.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It was almost a year ago that we had our last guests leave before we closed down for 109 days. We have a tremendous amount of staff that’s here, starting to help us get ready for all this; it’s just great to see so much activity at the property again.”

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