NCAA March Madness Compliance with COVID-19 Guidelines

Alexandria Nunn

Associate Editor

Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2022

In this unprecedented season of March Madness, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is required to implement rigorous health and safety procedures to conform to CDC guidelines and fend of COVID-19 complications in this year’s basketball tournament. This year’s tournament will be held exclusively in Indianapolis, Indiana, with the Final Four playing in the Lucas Oil Stadium to accommodate a larger audience. However, capacity will still be reduced to just 25%. All venues for the tournament will be less than 25% capacity. This 25% capacity includes,” all participants, essential staff and family members of each participating team’s student-athletes and coaches and a reduced number of fans.” The NCAA noted that those who were able to attend the tournament games live would be required to wear face coverings and to socially distance from one another. As of March 18, the NCAA only identified eight positive COVID-19 cases out of more than 9,100 tests. This is equal to a positivity rate of less than 0.1%.

How is the NCAA implementing COVID-19 safety guidelines?

Last year, the NCAA lost nearly eighty-percent of their 1.1 billion operating budget, so the organization is taking many precautions heading into this season’s March Madness Tournament. Before the tournament started, the NCAA was already on top of ensuring that COVID-19 would have as minimal of an impact as possible. The organization’s guidelines separated those attending the tournament into three tiers. Participants in the Tier 1 category were required to have on record seven consecutive negative COVID-19 tests in the seven days prior to arriving in Indiana for the tournament. Participants in Tier 1 currently are required to take a rapid-results test every day. Those included in Tier 1 include athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff and officials. Additionally, Tier 1 participants are required to use KINEXON contact tracing during practices and games. The NCAA director of communications, Stacey Osburn, said in a statement, “These devices, coupled with video analysis, provide data that allows total time measurement of those who are within 6 feet of a newly infected individual with COVID-19. The data will be utilized to assist with contact tracing and the need to quarantine participants.” Each Tier 1 participant may have up to six family members in attendance per game who are not included in the NCAA Tier grouping system. Participants who are grouped in the Tier 2 category include those who come into close contact with Tier 1 participants, such as security and other athletic employees. Tier 3 is made up of event staff such as catering workers and housekeeping.


Has the NCAA encountered any Major problems due to COVID-19 complications?

Just this past Saturday, March 20, the NCAA encountered their first game where one team automatically advanced to the second round of the tournament due to COVID-19 complications. No. 7 seed, Oregon, was originally scheduled to go head to head with No. 10 seed, Virginia Commonwealth (VCU), Saturday. However, due to several positive COVID-19 tests coming from VCU, they were sent home and were therefore unable to play against Oregon. VCU athletic director, Ed Mclaughlin, said in a statement about the positive tests, “This isn’t something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing. We don’t know how this happened, but it certainly wasn’t bad behavior on our side whatsoever.” The NCAA responded to the public with a statement expressing that they were regretful VCU was unable to participate. They also stated that they could not provide more details about the unfortunate matter due to privacy issues. 


How has March Madness changed from the pandemic?

The entire tournament will be hosted in one geographic location for the first time in March Madness’ history. March Madness has been occurring since 1939. In pre-pandemic times, the NCAA would take into account where a team was located geographically in addition to how well the team played. This year, the NCAA is abandoning their geographic considerations. The NCAA selection committee has used what is known as the S-curve. The S-curve, “snakes through the seeding list based on groupings for each seed (four No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, four No. 3 seeds all the way through to the field of 68). This means the No. 1 overall seed will get the “weakest” No. 2 seed — the No. 8 team on the overall seed list.” Every team is on the S-curve this year, when normally the committee only used the S-curve for the top four teams in each region. Additional changes this year include the absence of roaring fans to encourage the teams in the tournament and the massive celebrations that occur after the games. Despite the absence of encouraging fans or large celebrations, March Madness is still bound to give fans at home an exciting spectacle that they missed last year.