The NCAA used the single-site concept for its marquee championship out of necessity.
Now it could become part of the tournament’s future.
A day after crowning a national men’s basketball champion for the first time since 2019, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt told reporters that the successful tournament held primarily in Indianapolis and exclusively in Indiana could create a late-round model for future tourneys.
“If it’s the desire of the committee and the membership to consider something along these lines for the future, I think we would give it significant consideration,” he said Tuesday on a video call. “I would hesitate to say, though, I don’t think a 68-team single site, short of another pandemic, would be something we would have great interest in. However, once you get down to a fewer amount of teams, say the Sweet 16 and on, having teams in the same location may provide some opportunities the membership, coaches and all would want to consider for the future.”
Whatever happens, it won’t be anytime soon—at least not by choice.
The NCAA already has awarded preliminary round games through 2026 and intends to play those games as scheduled, something it couldn’t do this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced everyone to rethink how they could safely host games a year after the tournament was scrapped.
Players, coaches and staff members were tested daily for the coronavirus throughout the three-week event. Seating capacity was capped at 25% in the six playing venues. Fans were required to wear masks and those in the closest contact with teams, deemed Tier 1 personnel, essentially lived in an NCAA version of a bubble.
By almost any measure, the protocols worked.
Gavitt said there were 15 positive tests among the 28,311 conducted. The 66 games drew 173,592 fans, including nearly 8,000 Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium, where they watched Baylor end Gonzaga’s perfect season with an 86-70 victory.
And though the television ratings for the Final Four were down from 2019, according to Sports Business Journal, the UCLA-Gonzaga game drew nearly 17 million viewers and was not only the most-watched program Saturday night but also the most watched non-football game since the pandemic began.
Sure, there were obstacles.
Six referees were sent home before the first game because one tested positive. Another ref, Bert Smith, was wheeled off the court during a Sweet 16 game after collapsing from a medical issue unrelated to COVID-19.
Alabama student Luke Ratliff, 23, died after a brief illness just several days after he had attended a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Ratliff’s death prompted Indiana health officials to investigate whether anyone had been exposed to COVID-19 by Alabama residents.
A coronavirus outbreak among employees at St. Elmo’s forced the popular local restaurant to close and created consternation initially inside NCAA offices.
“We did get notification that the staff putting together the takeout meals was not involved,” Gavitt said. “But that’s why we had all these things in place. I think we had over 3,500 meals delivered into a controlled environment and none of those meals were directly touched by anyone who was being tested. I think the contactless portion of the plan was very important.”
But ultimately what mattered most was that only one game, Oregon-VCU, was canceled, and Baylor won the title just a short walk away from the governing body’s headquarters in a city that is likely to find itself at the center of future tourneys, too, and as the NCAA’s top backup option.
Or perhaps as a single-site city again.
“Knowing what we were able to pull off here in such a short amount of time, I think gives me and the NCAA staff incredible confidence that we have minimally an incredible backup plan if we’re presented with a challenge and have to to shift,” Gavitt said. “I think it will only lead to more opportunities for NCAA championships and other NCAA activities and events that we know will work so well in this convention center and surrounding facilities.”