KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE/AP) — In a college basketball season like no other, the NCAA Tournaments are feeling some changes for 2021.
For the first time ever, the entire men’s and women’s tournaments are being held in one host region. Following suit with the NBA and WNBA, the NCAA used Indianapolis and San Antonio as host cities, confining the Big Dance to one region in a bubble-like setting.
The Lady Vols were be competing in the NCAA tournament on Sunday in San Antonio against MTSU.
Instead of caravanning across the country when advancing rounds, teams instead hop on busses to and from one of the five designated arenas.
“The whole event I’d going to look so different,” said Jenny Carnes, the executive director of San Antonio’s local organizing committee for the 2021 NCAA Women’s Final Four.
There will be limited fans in attendance, with the first two rounds only open for up to six family members per each member of the team’s official travel party. The Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four will be open to the general public, allowing up to 17% capacity at the Alamodome, which shakes out to be between five-thousand to seven-thousand fans. Like the theme of 2020, masks will still be required for fans cheering on their teams in person, despite Governor Greg Abbott lifting the statewide mandate in Texas.
“Despite some changes at state level, nothing changes for NCAA protocols and our city venues,” said Carnes. “Masks, social distancing, nothing changes. This will be a very safe, healthy events.”
All 64 teams will be housed in San Antonio with every team on their own floor. Carnes said players and team personnel will be protected on their walks to and from practice and team will be tested daily.
Carnes said the city was a natural fit to host the entire tournament, as San Antonio was set to host the women’s Final Four three years ago and this tournament marks the third time the championship game has been held there.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity for San Antonio during this pandemic when it’s slowed down, or stopped our hospitality and tourism industry. So, it’s going to be a real jump start for San Antonio,” said Carnes. “We’re anticipating over 27 million dollars of visitor spending.”
Carnes said the community is excited to get the opportunity to host the event and has been stepping up to help out. Thousands are volunteering to help orchestrate the event, including former WNBA and college basketball players. Carnes said Sophia Young will be a “ball human” as they are calling it, helping corral basketballs and mop the arena floors. Becky Hammon, the first woman to act as an NBA head coach in the regular season, is giving all 64 teams a “Ted Talk.”
“Everyone is just stepping up, it’s really cool to see the excitement this event is generating.”
NCAA basketball administrators actually apologized to the women’s basketball players and coaches earlier this week after inequities between the men’s and women’s tournament went viral on social media and vowed to do better.