The NCAA Tournament is returning in 2021 after last year's cancellation, and with it, so are the fans. To a limited degree, that is.
The NCAA announced Friday that "a limited number of fans at the 2021 Division I Men's Basketball Championship, including all rounds and the Final Four" will be permitted. The number will cap venue capacity at 25% across the six venues that will host tournament games this year, all in the state of Indiana and the majority in the city of Indianapolis.
Indiana subsequently announced it would allow a maximum of 500 spectators in its venue for 2021 tournament games.
The NCAA has been convening for weeks with health authorities in Marion, Monroe and Tippecanoe counties. Indianapolis is based in Marion County, while Monroe County is home to Indiana University and Tippecanoe County is where Purdue University is located.
"The event capacity will include all participants, essential staff and family members of each participating team's student-athletes and coaches and a reduced number of fans," the NCAA said in its statement. "All attendees must wear face coverings and physically distance during the event. Thorough cleaning, disinfecting and safety measures will be a priority in all venues."
Fan allowance will enable a livelier environment for the NCAA Tournament, but just as importantly for the NCAA, it will also bring in some valued ticket revenue one year after losing hundreds of millions of dollars due to canceling the 2020 NCAA Tournament because of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"We continue to use the knowledge we have gained over the season on how to conduct games in a safe environment," NCAA president Mark Emmert said. "I want to thank our host universities and conferences, the Indiana State Health Department, and the leaders in the Marion, Monroe and Tippecanoe county health departments as they help make that possible."
Selection Sunday is March 14. The 2021 NCAA Tournament will begin Thursday, March 18, with the First Four. The first round will be played March 19 and March 20. A full schedule, including TV tip times, can be found here.
"This year's tournament will be like no other, and while we know it won't be the same for anyone, we are looking forward to providing a memorable experience for the student-athletes, coaches and fans at a once-in-a-lifetime tournament," NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said.
More details on the NCAA's health and safety guidelines, including preparations for how teams will travel and live once they arrive in Indianapolis, can be found here.