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What’s different about the 2021 NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19

Here are some big NCAA Tournament changes you should be aware of ahead of the 2021 March Madness party.

Illinois Fighting Illini guard Adam Miller and guard Trent Frazier celebrate defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium. Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Tournament is here, with the Selection Show broadcast live on Sunday night at 6 p.m. on CBS, and March Madness beginning a day later than usual on Friday, March 18 and ending as per usual on the first Monday in April, this year falling on the 5th.

But this year’s tournament will be slightly different from the decades that preceded it. The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NCAA to make some adjustments.

Here’s what’s new with the 2021 NCAA Tournament:


  • All of the tournament games are in Indiana.
  • No geographic regions for team selection.

Bracketing decisions usually account for proximity to hosting sites, but not this time around. The overall seeding list will rank all teams 1-68 teams in the tournament, and that’s how teams will be seeded. Teams can still be moved up or down a line for being in the same conference or after having faced each other once or twice during the year.


  • Teams have to pass seven days worth of COVID-19 testing before flying to March Madness.

The NCAA will be extremely cautious when administering COVID-19 tests to the teams of players competing. If any member of a team fails to pass a week’s worth of tests, including coaches and staff, they could be booted from the tournament before getting to play a game.

Teams that weren’t able to participate had until last night to remove themselves from consideration, and there’s another deadline of Tuesday afternoon which is when the bracket will “lock.” Any team that’s forced to withdraw after that time will be replaced by the next team available on standby.

Replacement teams

  • Standby teams will be on campus preparing to step into the bracket

This is the most interesting wrinkle of this year’s tournament. If any team is ruled ineligible, a bubble team left out will be permitted to step in and replace them before the first game of the tournament. They’ll take over the seed line of the higher-seeded team in the game that was scheduled to be played.

It’s likely that at least one team will be eliminated because of a positive COVID-19 test, so a team that’s on the bubble right now could unexpectedly find itself deep in the tournament and have a real shot at winning it all.

Since there’s no Ivy League this year, there 37 at-large and 31 automatic bids available, instead of the usual 36 and 32 respectively.


  • There will be six venues used, and all games from the Elite Eight forward will be at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Instead of a Final Four, Division II basketball does an Elite Eight at a neutral site, and that’s what’s happening here. Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts, will have two full-sized basketball courts that will host games, though the games won’t run concurrently. The stadium will also host games in the first three rounds of the tournament as well.

Here are the other five venues being used:

  • Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
  • Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana (Host: Ball State University)
  • Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana (Host: Butler University)
  • Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis, Indiana (Host: IUPUI)
  • Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana (two courts) (Host: Horizon League)


All venues will be limited to 25% capacity with physical distancing, except for Assembly Hall in Bloomington, which will only allow 500 fans in the stands. That’s basically enough tickets for player families and athletic department staffers only. You can still buy tickets right now on StubHub, but they certainly aren’t cheap.