NCAA’s first March Madness since COVID

Quin Norris, Sports Editor

As March inches near, college basketball fans ready themselves for  perhaps one of the biggest events of all of sports. 

With March approaching, it means that the annual March Madness is almost here. March Madness is the personal name that is given to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men and Women’s Basketball Tournament. These tournaments determine the national champions of college basketball.  

The tournament hosts four play in matches to set up the field for a sixty-four-team playoff single-elimination bracket.  Because it is a single-elimination,  the championship team has to  win at least six games in a row to claim the title. If a team makes one loss, they are going home. 

However, this will be the first tournament since 2019 given the cancellation of the tournament last year due the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Before the game begins, one must closely examine the logistics behind the tournament being played. For a it to work efficiently, the teams will have to do the same thing that was done by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and will be done later this year during the Olympics. They will have to form COVID-free bubbles for athletes in order  to protect them and to ensure that social distancing to occurs.   

Creating a bubble is the only feasible way to have many teams and competitors in the event without getting everyone sick. 

While I am a fan of having fans in the stands, supporting their favorite teams, it is far too detrimental to the health of the players and coaches to have crowds in the stadium, especially due to a basketball game being played inside of a building that would be circulating the virus through the air. 

It is important to state that the only way this bubble can work is if the players are comfortable with the thought of being confined in an enclosed space. I say this because unlike professional athletes, who are being paid to play and can adapt to the situations they are placed into, college athletes should not be asked to do the same. It is important to remember that athletes at the collegiate level are basically playing for an education or a chance to be in the NBA and are having their talents be used for profit by the NCAA. 

It is because of this that I believe that the bubble is insufficient for these players. They should not be forced into playing in the setting. Unlike professional athletes, college players are exposed to a large student body and run into a multitude of people on a regular bases due to the nature of the work environment. This clearly makes exposure to the virus and spreading the virus a significantly harder hurdle than for their professional counterparts. 

If the bubble does go underway, it will be important for the players to be regularly screened for the coronavirus like they already have been all season. The final major suggestion I would make to the NCAA in setting up the bubble would be to have five total venues to host the entirety of the tournament to not overcrowd one area, which I am sure they will be doing. 

I do have serious concerns for the NCAA in setting up this tournament this year as it is easily the hardest logistical tournament to play out of all the major events in the sports world. It will be an uphill task for them to complete in this year. 

As far as teams that I am thrilled to watch this year in the tournament, I would have to include Gonzaga as they look nearly unbeatable this year, along with the upper class of the Big 10 as the conference as a whole is having an amazing year overall and of course the SEC surprise team in Alabama. My projected winner of the tournament is Michigan as I really enjoy their team chemistry and leadership. I would shy away from backing Gonzaga to go all the way because they tend to disappoint come tournament time. For all the people that are reading this wondering how Alabama is going to fair in the tournament, I wouldn’t wage a bet on them. While their team has an incredible point ceiling due to their heavy reliance on the three point shot, they can also very easily lose momentum in a game and struggle to get back into a game if the three is taken away from them and some of the talent they will be playing starting in the sweet sixteen will be more than capable of achieving just that. 

Overall, I am happy to have such an iconic sport setting back in the flow of life and I hope the tournament goes off without a hitch. I also hope that all the athletes and their coaches manage to stay healthy during all the chaos that is about to come their way due to the coronavirus. 

However, if anyone can deal with the stress of this year’s situation, I know that a student athlete on the cusps of glory can handle it.