The COVID Madness of March Madness

     It is that time of the year when all college basketball fans turn to the screens to watch NCAA March Madness. This month of basketball is one of heartbreak and triumph, but this year it is going to look different than usual. The whole March Madness event will take place in a virtual bubble that is located in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. 

     The “first four” and some of the first-round games will be held at Mackey Arena in West Layfayette, Indiana, as well as, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. From the second round on, all the games will be held in the various venues in Indianapolis. These venues include Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’s (IUPUI) Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis Colts’s Lucas Oil Stadium, and The Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

     The players and team members will be housed in one of four hotels close to the stadiums and fieldhouse. All of these buildings are connected by skywalks and tunnels. In each of the hotels, one team is assigned a floor that they will be staying on. On each of the floors, there is a designated meeting room that is used as a dining room for coaches and players. No team or individuals will be allowed to dine out on the town. 

     All this madness was coordinated by the same company that coordinated the Olympics. Every detail is planned, from where each bag of laundry is going to be delivered to the recreational facilities held within the Indianapolis Convention Center. As teams are quickly eliminated from the tournament, the convention center is continuously being renovated to make room for restaurants/meeting rooms, a movie theater, indoor and outdoor garden spaces, and various sports facilities.

     Seeing as this whole tournament is being played in this “bubble,” the likelihood of someone testing positive for COVID-19 is small. On the off chance that someone test positive, the NCAA has partnered with a German tech company named Kinexon, who is the creator of Safe Tags. These tags track each player and their interactions with other people in the facilities. Safe Tags allow health officials to look at an infected person’s tracking history and see who they interacted with and for how long. This way they can contact all people that were in contact with the infected person and remove them from play. Which allows for a smooth-running March Madness tournament.

     Part of the contact tracing process is helped by a tiered contact system. This four-tier chart begins with those who would be in constant contact with NCAA team members and players and ends with people who would not have any contact with players such as audience members.

     The NCAA’s 2021 March Madness has truly been madness. With predicted brackets being broken and cinderella stories proving us all wrong. COVID-19 has made this year a remarkable feat of coordination, patience, and has only shown the resilience of the college athletes and coaches that participated in the tournament.