The opening Thursday of March Madness 2021 will not be the same. It always has been a holiday for college basketball fans — some of whom planned vacation days, called in sick or skipped school — to sit at home and binge on a day filled with 16 NCAA Tournament first-round games.
The challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic convinced the NCAA to push back the start of the tournament, what is known as the First Four, to Thursday, March 18.
Wait until you hear, though, what the tradeoff for that change to tradition will be: quite possibly the greatest two days of college basketball action in our lifetimes.
Games in the Sweet 16, which will be contested at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, will be played in sequence on March 27 and March 28. There will be no overlap involving these games. There will be four games each day, played one after the other, so fans will not have to choose which matchup has greater appeal. You can watch each of them, one after the other: four on Saturday, four on Sunday.
You’re no longer going to need a second screen or a seat in a sports bar to see all the action — just a really comfortable chair and a stocked fridge.
There will be, for this year, no more choosing between such simultaneous classics as LSU-Texas and UCLA-Gonzaga, which were played in the same window on a Thursday night in 2006, or Virginia Tech-Duke and Kentucky-Houston, which shared the same late Friday timeslot in the most recent NCAA Tournament we had, in 2019.
A college basketball season like no other will end with an NCAA Tournament like no other.
In the case of March Madness, that could be a good thing.
Revised March Madness schedule for 2021
First Four: Thursday, March 18, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.) and Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.).
First round: Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20, Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena; Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Second Round: Sunday, March 20 and Monday, March 21, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium.
Regional semifinals: Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Regional finals: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30, Lucas Oil Stadium.
Final Four: Saturday, April 3, Lucas Oil Stadium.
NCAA championship: Monday, April 5, Lucas Oil Stadium.