Columbus will be the site of the first televised basketball competition since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in mid-March when The Basketball Tournament is held July 4-14 at Nationwide Arena.
But no spectators will be permitted for the 23 games of the $1 million, winner-take-all tournament. Carmen’s Crew, a team consisting mostly of former Ohio State players, is the defending champion.
TBT founder and CEO Jon Mugar said Columbus was chosen over cities including Wichita, Kansas, and Dayton largely because of the way health and safety plans could be implemented.
All participants from the 24 teams will be quarantined in the Hyatt hotel Downtown. Practice courts will be set up at the hotel and the Columbus Convention Center so players won’t have to leave a three-block area during the tournament.
Players will undergo four tests over eight days, beginning three days before leaving for Columbus with an at-home test. If any player tests positive, his team will be eliminated from the tournament.
The announcement Thursday was the culmination of three months of work after COVID-19 threatened to force the cancellation of the event. The tournament, now in its seventh year, had to scale back from its traditional 64 teams and reduce its prize money by half of what it had offered the previous four years. Games will be televised by ESPN.
"It carries huge significance for us," Mugar said of surviving the pandemic. "As a young, upstart small business, we’ve seen so many (similar businesses) facing headwinds. It’s always very inspiring when I see them get back on their feet and open. For us to be able to persist through all the obstacles was a very big test for us.
"It’s something we have only been able to achieve because our players have been so willing, our partners have been so willing, and our staff has been great."
TBT has gained a following since its first event, in 2014. Teams typically are composed of former college teammates. Its signature touch is the Elam Ending, which forces teams to clinch victories by reaching a target score rather than just run out the clock.
In years past, early round games were held at various sites. Mugar said he knew that had to change this year because of the pandemic.
"We landed pretty early on having it at a single, safe location," he said.
Mugar said he worked closely with government and health experts.
"There’s so many partners in Columbus that were really gracious with their time and went to bat for us, and that’s why we’re there," he said.
Mugar said that participating teams were instrumental in formulating the plan as well. Many players play overseas and understood the issues that needed to be addressed.
"They all want to feel safe, and our brand of basketball is so intense from the tip-off through the end of the game that we especially want everyone to feel safe," he said. "Strict protocols were the way to go. They have to know that everyone on the court went through the exact same process they did. That really became our mission."
He said that developing a thorough safety plan was a bigger emphasis than becoming the first major basketball tournament to be played since March.
"Being first adds attention, but that’s never been the goal and still isn’t really the goal," Mugar said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement that hosting TBT in Columbus was another step forward in re-opening the state.
"We’re looking forward to having live sports back in a safe way we all can enjoy," he said.