First, the news:
#MarchMadness Scheduling Update!— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 19, 2021
March 18 - First Four
March 19/20 - First Round
March 21/22 - Second Round
March 27/28 - Sweet 16
March 29/30 - Elite 8
April 3 - Final Four
April 5 - National Championship
It might just be the comical amount of coffee I've had so far today, but this feels like really good news to me. Not only is there a plan for the NCAA tournament, but it's almost like a normal one. There are some hints at what the NCAA is imagining the tourney is going to look like here, so let's dig in.
First of all, things are pushed back a couple of days. The First Four is usually contested on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the first round proper begins; this year it will be on the Thursday. That will directly precede the first round's beginning on Friday, so it's probably safe to assume that the teams from the first four will all be playing in pods that play on Saturday. I can't imagine any of them being forced into a 24-hour turn around.
With the First Four being pushed back, the opening weekend will run from Friday through Monday rather than the traditional Thursday through Sunday to narrow the field from 64 to 16. That's probably good news for people who work a traditional 9-to-5 schedule and can't get days off easily. Snag some wings on the way home Friday and you can see about two-thirds of the games before you head back in on Monday.
As has become the temporary norm, coronavirus concerns will be the dominant factor in scheduling. With the whole thing being contested in and around Indianapolis, the NCAA has scheduled in at least an extra day or two for teams to get settled and test negative. I wouldn't be surprised to see leagues pushing forward or compressing their conference tournaments in an effort to get their teams to Indy safely earlier.
It's been a crazy season, but we currently have 67 more NCAA tournament games on the schedule than we got to enjoy last year. Keep your fingers crossed, and wear those masks.