Dan Gavitt: NCAA still finalizing plans for men's, women's basketball tournaments
The dates are on the calendar, but the plans continue to evolve as the NCAA moves closer toward holding this year’s men’s and women’s basketball championships.
Speaking as part of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission’s monthly “Virtual Sports Report” series, NCAA senior vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt said they are confident that the protocols put in place will ensure that we will have March Madness and that it will be conducted in a safe manner.
Questions remain, though. What happens should a team have multiple positive tests after the tournament is underway? How would teams opting out of their conference tournaments affect seeding the field? Gavitt, along with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, addressed some of these Thursday with an overall theme: answers are coming.
Daily COVID-19 testing is vital
“We feel confident we have medical protocols that are appropriate to have NCAA championships and have them be successful,” Gavitt said. “Fundamental to it all is the availability of testing. Without (that) you couldn’t have competition safely. Because it’s available and we have access to it, we have confidence before any team takes the court or the field that they’re safe.”
In order to participate in the NCAA Tournament, members must have seven consecutive days of negative COVID-19 tests before arriving in Indianapolis (men) or San Antonio (women). Traveling parties will be capped at 34 people, each of which will be allowed to have six family members attend as fans.
Once the teams are on site, they will be tested daily. Gavitt said a final decision has not yet been reached concerning what would happen should a team be unable to play due to positive test results.
What happens if a team can't play due to COVID-19?
“One of the last pieces we haven’t made a final decision on yet is the unfortunate circumstance of a team not being able to participate in championships, whether we have a replacement team,” Gavitt said. We saw that in Columbus with The Basketball Tournament and how they managed that with teams on standby.
“We have a plan the men’s basketball committee has approved and think we have a good solution there. We hope it won’t have to be activated.”
That plan will be announced within the next week, Gavitt said, while also noting that there won’t be an opportunity to introduce a team to the tournament once it has already started.
“We hope to start the tournament with full fields,” he said.
Will fans be able to attend games?
An announcement could come within the next several days regarding general fan attendance. Gavitt said the number would be capped at 25% attendance but noted that requiring a six-foot space between people would mean most of the different venues wouldn’t be able to approach that number. Should virus concerns affect one of the six sites in Indianapolis, Gavitt said Ball State and Indiana State could serve as potential backup hosts.
Seeding the field will come with challenges as well as conferences could be forced to contend with teams opting out of their postseason tournaments to limit exposure opportunities leading into the NCAA Tournament. Gavitt said decisions on rewarding automatic qualifier bids will be made at the conference level.
Even deciding on a regular-season champion comes with debate. The Big Ten is likely to go with winning percentage as the deciding factor, but COVID-related pauses have created scheduling inequity. Tonight, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State will be playing their 11th and 16th Big Ten games, respectively.
Smith was non-committal on what he thinks the Big Ten should do when awarding its own regular-season title.
“You think about teams that haven’t that the opportunity to play for a long period of time, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good basketball team,” Smith said. “Even if we had designed balanced schedules it would’ve been unbalanced. I’m just glad all of our kids at all of our schools have a chance to play. We may have to make different decisions about tiebreakers and such decisions.”