NCAA says fans will be allowed at March Madness, with up to 25% capacity at Indiana venues


INDIANAPOLIS — A limited number of fans will be able to attend this year’s March Madness games.

The NCAA announced Friday that venues would allow up to 25% capacity with physical distancing for the tournament. The organization made the decision in conjunction with state and local health departments.

The entirety of the annual men’s basketball tournament will be played in Indiana, with sites including Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis along with Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

Capacity will vary by venue. IU says it will allow up to 500 spectators for first round games playing at Assembly Hall, which can seat about 17,000 people.

Purdue is still working to determine how many fans to allow. The school is still working with local officials to determine what they are working with.

A Butler University spokesperson tells us the school will not limit capacity for NCAA tournament games at Hinkle Fieldhouse below 25%. The number of fans allowed will be determined by the NCAA once they have set up the venue and can analyze how many fans can be accommodated.

After conversations between the NCAA and the Indiana University Medical Response Team, Indiana University plans to welcome up to 500 spectators for the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship games played at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall March 18-20.  

Indiana University’s plan, based on recommendations from the Medical Response Team, is consistent with the attendance policy at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall during the 2020-2021 basketball season permitting immediate family members of participating players and staff members to attend the games. A limited number of seats will also be available for vaccinated medical personnel and first responders from Monroe County.

Event capacity includes all participants, essential staff and family members of each participating team’s student-athletes and coaches and a reduced number of fans. All attendees must wear masks and stay physically distant during the event. In addition, the NCAA said thorough cleaning and disinfecting will be a “priority” at all venues.

“We continue to use the knowledge we have gained over the season on how to conduct games in a safe environment,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “I want to thank our host universities and conferences, the Indiana State Health Department, and the leaders in the Marion, Monroe and Tippecanoe county health departments as they help make that possible.”

The NCAA has formalized COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the tournament. They include testing, face coverings, physical distancing and contact tracing requirements before teams arrive and throughout their stay in the tournament.

Hosts Ball State, Butler, the Horizon League, Indiana, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Purdue are lending their facilities and staffs to assist with tournament operations. The NCAA will use the Indiana Convention Center as a practice facility, with multiple courts set up inside the venue.

Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Marion County Public Health Department Dr. Virginia Caine issued the following statement in response to the NCAA’s announcement:

The Marion County Public Health Department agrees with the decision made by the NCAA on the suggested limitation of spectators, up to 25% capacity at host venues with the understanding that there will be strict requirements for masks and social distancing, for the 2021 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as outlined in today’s announcement.

Marion County has followed state and national trends in seeing significant decreases in the COVID-19 positivity rate in recent weeks. While this is good news, we must all continue to be vigilant. By requiring the wearing of masks, physical distancing, and with comprehensive COVID-19 testing, monitoring and other health safety protocols in place, the NCAA believes they can provide a safe environment for athletes and team staff.  

We will continue to monitor COVID-19 data, and – as a group – make any adjustments to protocols as necessary leading up to tip-off. Protecting the health of everyone involved is our top priority.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued this statement on Twitter:


Bob Schultz, Senior Vice President of Downtown Indy Inc. said Friday, “Obviously, this feels like Christmas Day. This is a huge gift and opportunity that we will all still have to get through safely and appropriately.”

“We’re thrilled that the numbers have gone in the direction that allows for the health department and the NCAA to respond and open some doors like this,” said Schultz.

He said this is a promising sign for businesses that have been ‘gut-punched’ since the NCAA tournament last year.

For places like Soupremacy, a soup and salad shop on Monument Circle, this is a slam dunk after the business has had to pivot its operations over the last eleven months.

General Manager Danielle Cooney said because of the size of their business, which is only about 700 square feet, they have not been able to accommodate in-person dining.

The store has done a large amount of carry-out, delivery orders and started offering family meal deals, they have also fed frontline workers and helped people in need, but like many other businesses, they’ve seen a major slowdown due to the pandemic. They hope the return of fans for this year’s March Madness tournament will bring in a boost for businesses.

“Today’s news was really exciting,” said Cooney. “It’s that beacon of hope that we’ve been waiting for, for 11 months at this point – 10 months.”

Although it is not clear whether Soupremacy will be able to open its doors for in-person dining by the time March Madness rolls around, Cooney said their location is perfect for grabbing a bite and heading over to the monument to sit and eat lunch or enjoy a coffee.

“I always send people to the steps of The Circle anyway,” she said. “It’s really kind of the heart of our city.”

The District Tap Downtown, which sits just steps from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, is looking forward to welcoming back more fans to the area.

The business, which would be packed on game days pre-pandemic, is still busy and fills up, but only to the amount that restrictions related to the pandemic allow them to.

“The beginning of the year was a little slower with COVID restrictions,” said General Manager Jeff Huron. “It took a while to kind of come out of that.”

He said the past few months with volleyball tournaments held downtown and professional sporting events allowing limited fans to attend, it has been a promising sign for businesses.

“I’d have to say the last six weeks have been actually really, really, really great,” he said.

“I mean we’re still under restriction so our seating’s limited with six foot distancing. To keep people safe we have to limit our number of tables,” Huron explained.

He said he hopes the weather cooperates and drives more foot traffic downtown to restaurants and other businesses.

“Downtown Indy’s great. It’s coming back and as spring rolls around, people want to get out and I think District Tap is obviously where I’d watch a game,” he said.

“We’re excited to have people down here.”

Huron said he feels 25 percent is a good start and looks forward to the day sporting events can safely welcome back 100 percent capacity.

“I think it’s going to be a really good example for the rest of the sporting world. Let’s get people back in the stands, let’s get people back downtown and enjoying their lives again. So, I’m looking forward to that,” said Huron.

Schultz said, “You think about over the course of the next several weeks, more than 100 basketball games will take place in downtown Indianapolis. The eyes of the entire sports world will again be focused on Indianapolis.”

“It’s not only about what’s happening in the venues, but what’s also happening before and after the games and the restaurants and hotels and all of us are coordinating that effort to really put on an unprecedented opportunity to fill our hotels, encourage safe distancing downtown in our restaurants and other places and hopefully looking forward to warm weather for outdoor dining,” Schultz said.

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