With nation’s confirmed coronavirus infections surging, the NCAA announced Monday it plans to stage the entire Division I women’s basketball tournament in one geographic area when it tips off in March.
Talks are already underway with officials in San Antonio to host the 64 teams that will compete in the single-elimination tournament.
NCAA officials said it aims to limit the spread of the virus by cutting down on the amount of travel required by teams.
🚨 #ncaaW Update 🚨
The 2021 NCAA Tournament will be held in one geographic area.
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) December 14, 2020
It also said having all the teams in a single location allows for NCAA officials to better focus on “potential benefits” of hosting the tournament in a controlled setting for games, practice venues and lodging for both teams and game officials.
“By making this difficult decision now, it allows for an earlier opportunity to work proactively with local public health officials within the host communities and ensures that the identified guidelines and protocols are considered for a more controlled environment,” Nina King, chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee said in a statement.
This was not a drastic departure for the NCAA as San Antonio was already slated to host the Women’s Final Four. However, early rounds of the tournament were scheduled to be played in other parts of the country, including Albany, N.Y., Austin, Texas, Cincinnati, and Spokane, Wash., which have all been nixed.
To accommodate the number of games, particularly early on in the tournament, the NCAA said the University of the Incarnate World and the University of Texas at San Antonio will be among the venues to host games.
The tournament will feature a total of 63 games and typically gets underway in late March and goes through early April.
NCAA expects the tournament to be played on time, however it’s possible the time frame for the tournament could be shortened, according to the Associated Press.
“We look forward to working with Bexar County, San Antonio and the state of Texas to further determine a path for creating a special championship experience for all [of the] participating school(s) while ensuring the safest possible environment for college athletes and officials,” said Lynn Holzman, vice president of women’s basketball at the NCAA.
NCAA officials last month announced a similar plan to hold the Men’s Division I tournament, sometimes referred to as March Madness, in a single location, Indianapolis.
Both the women’s and men’s basketball tournaments were canceled earlier this year as the widespread devastation the coronavirus pandemic was just becoming clear. The decision to cancel the 2020 tournaments came as the virus shuttered virtually all aspects of the sports world.
The mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, said he was honored his city was selected to host the women’s tournament. He also said safety precautions were a priority.
“It is also a tremendous responsibility, and I know our local organizing committee and our hospitality industry will make the safety and wellbeing of the athletes, coaches and fans its highest priority,” Nirenberg added.