How will a one-city NCAA tournament work? This hockey conference offered a glimpse

December 2020

  • Chris Peters

Close ESPN Editor

Chris Peters is the NHL Projects and Prospects Analyst for ESPN. The Chicago native once handled the NHL for and founded the popular independent blog, where he has handled the game at all levels since 2010.

  • Myron Bear

Close ESPN Editor

    • Includes college basketball
    • Since 2011 on
    • Graduated Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Just days before the start of the 2020-21 university basketball season, reports have appeared that the NCAA Indianapolis is considering Indianapolis as the only host city for the entire men’s tournament in 2021. Since then, the NCAA has not published any clear details of the event.

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While competitions such as the NBA and WNBA, as well as last summer’s annual Basketball Tournament (TBT), have successfully used the single court option, these competitions have brought together far fewer teams than the NCAA had planned for this 68-team show. In the NBA, WNBA and TBT, the teams also had the opportunity to stay in a real bubble environment – quarantine facilities, hotels and transport, not to mention the consistency of the test protocols. An NCAA tournament with 68 teams from across the country, with very different protocols, adherence to different academic calendars and other logistical challenges will not have the same luxury.

It’s just a logistical nightmare, said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who compared the proposed deal to a summer in Las Vegas where several AAU events were held over the same weekend. But, Mr. Sampson added: If that’s what we have to do, let’s do it.

Although the operation of a tournament is not very clear, a Division I men’s hockey conference provided insight into the operation of a unique multi-week varsity sports tournament, albeit on a much smaller scale than a 68-team men’s basketball tournament or a 64-team women’s tournament.

Fault! The file name is not specified. The NCAA cannot afford the financial loss of another cancelled tournament, but there were few details about this event. Lance King/Getty Images

The National Hockey Conference, an eight-team league stretching from Oxford, Ohio to Colorado Springs, Colorado, played the first game of the season in what is known as the Pod League, which runs from 1 to 21. December in Omaha, Nebraska. During this period, NCHC transferred all of its activities to the Village of Axarben in Omaha and Baxter Arena, a multifunctional facility that normally houses the University of Nebraska Omaha men’s ice hockey program and its basketball programs. NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton has been instructed to build up the team and at the same time try not to fall apart during the whole season.

I think the goal all this time and for the whole year is just to continue playing hockey and offer the competition these guys want and deserve, Fenton told ESPN during the event. I think the effort you see from the members before we arrived and now that we are here, when everyone follows protocol and understands what they have to do so that we can keep playing, is a way that our members have always worked.

For all organizations trying to organize sports events since the beginning of the pandemic, the main concern is the safety of participants at a time when the rate of coronavirus infection is out of control in many communities.

Inside the capsule, Mr. Fenton said he spent much of his time on testing, working closely with the conference’s medical director and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to ensure that the correct testing procedures are applied. Mr. Fenton also stated that the competition should be prepared in case of positive tests for the participants in the pod.

Upon arrival in Omaha, all persons designated as Level 1 participants – players, coaches, on-ice officials and conference officials – had to be tested. This also applies to persons with a confirmed previous infection in the previous months, although the risk of re-infection is considered low. For those people who are known to have been infected at some point in the past year, additional tests have been done to make sure that no virus is still active on their system.

NCHC successfully selected all athletes from the eight schools and did not postpone any of the scheduled races in Bode (38-38) for three weeks.

We managed to get them all out, which was really unbelievable and a big hurdle to start with, Fenton said. We learned a lot in that first test at the finish. Once we understood this, we started to further test the speed of observation.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Restricted areas are defined in NCHC protocols to avoid unnecessary contact with frontline players. provided by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

As soon as the game started, the teams were tested on each game day, and the teams that would play at the beginning of the day were tested the day before.

Despite the lack of external security to enforce player and staff protocols, each NKGC team has been assigned a compliance officer to report any problems to the league. Fenton received daily updates from each member of the compliance department.

According to the NCSC, most questions were insignificant. Some of them were as simple as remembering players to wear masks. The players had to stand between the hotels and the arena.

But would such protocols work in an NCAA tournament environment?

Dr. Jeremy Cowels, who met with the organizers of the South Dakota College Crossover Classic last month, said it will be important for NCAA officials to find enough facilities – both in the field and in the hotels – to accommodate the teams.

In my opinion, the first step is to find a place that is suitable for 68 different teams and not mix them up, he said. They must be tested regularly to obtain a negative result.

If the NCHC uses an eight-team bubble, could the NCAA tournament consist of eight bubbles held in Indianapolis and the Metroplex on the first weekend?

Lucas Oil Field, which was scheduled to receive the last four in 2021, and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the NBA Indiana Pacers are based, would be suitable locations, although the NCAA has not yet confirmed potential locations. Among the colleges in Indianapolis, Butler, IUPUI and Division II of Indianapolis University have the basketball courts needed to organize games, and other schools in Division I are 60-90 minutes from the city, including Ball State (Muncie), Indiana (Bloomington), and Indiana State (Terre Haute).

Fault! The file name is not specified. NCHC Locker Rooms, made available by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

But once the facilities are secure, the problems don’t stop there.

Mike Kemp, senior associate athletic director for events and facilities in Nebraska Omaha, said one of the biggest challenges of the NCHC event was finding enough space in the locker room. Baxter Arena is a multi-purpose facility, but it is not designed for eight First Division hockey teams playing up to three games a day. Temporary locker rooms were set up throughout the facility, so the teams had to travel frequently and change locker rooms for training sessions and matches. NCHC stated that the team and the employees of the competition were able to make it work.

The airplane managers will probably be the heroes if we persevere, Fenton said at the event.

Meeting the academic requirements in a three-week bubble situation was another challenge for participants in the NCAA tournament.

The state of North Dakota was scheduled to finish in the middle of the NCHC event and UND coach Brad Berry said the players were able to speak with their college counselors in the locker room. The coach also stated that he made it clear to all players that they should contact their teachers before the event and stay at their post during the event.

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Nebraska Omaha provided academic advisors for the pod actors. Players Noah Cates and Hunter Lellig from Minnesota Duluth said they had to claim a suite in the hockey hall for training to take their share of the staff management presentation.

It was definitely a different experience, but whatever it meant for the game, Cates said. I never thought I’d see the final presentation at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, but we did, and that’s great.

The Fighting Hawks stayed in one of the four hotels used for the conference in the village of Aksarben during the 20 days of the event. According to Berry, his players and staff were the only guests in the hotel. The team had several places and a room for its meals, which were fully catered for by the neighbouring restaurants. According to the players, there was little interaction with the members of the other teams and the Fighting Hawks were able to walk to and from the arena without having to get on a bus.

Fault! The file name is not specified. The Lucas oil field would be virtually empty if the NCAA kept it as a tournament pitch for 2021. Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images

Each team had a meeting room with billiard tables and other means to relax on the hotel grounds.

While he was at the hotel with all the boys, Cates said, when asked what was best to be a Pod. It is clear that the care for the crown [the virus] was not as great as in Duluth.

The only places the teams went to in the NCHC pod were the designated restaurant, the arena and the hotel. According to Cates, individual players are also allowed to order food from outside, but then it has to be delivered or collected to be satisfied. Everything is accessible on foot.

Once the logistics were worked out, the focus was on games that presented their own mental challenges.

Playing games at noon, five games in eight days, was quite difficult, said Cates. Of course it was great to be on the ice again, but it didn’t feel like a normal varsity hockey series. So it was different, but it was fun. Of course, we’re very happy to play again.

It is [important] for us coaches to remember the short games, said Berry. If we want to skate, they’re very short. If you play 10 games in 18 days, energy is an important issue. You have to be very flexible in how you organize your days and how you prepare for them, but you have to be aware of the level of energy you need every day.

While NCHC has built a model that could implement the NCAA on a larger scale, the huge number of athletes, teams, officials, staff, coaches and players would make the NCAA tournament the biggest pseudo-bubble ever tried.

Some coaches wonder whether the concept of the NCAA tournament is challenged by factors beyond their control.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Can the NCAA be relied on to ensure the safety of players and address the numerous logistical issues offered by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference?

I love the concept of a city, but I would go to a state that has COVID-19 protocols tracking to CDC seven-day contact and a state that has local contract tracking responding to CDC, said a Power 5 bus. They may also have four locations in states and cities that join the NCAA and the CDC, and hold [the last four] meetings in India.

While other leagues see bubbles as an opportunity to avoid the chaos associated with COWID-19 during the most important part of the season, the plan around the NCAA tournament is seen as important to an organization that lost $375 million by canceling the 2020 version. It was only last season that the selection committee considered a more restricted area before making a final decision.

I think a 68-team tournament with just one throw is possible as long as they have a few months to plan it well, the Power 5 coach told ESPN. Let’s face it, this is very important for their lives, so I think they will give them the time, energy and resources they need to get by.

Everyone involved knows that leadership will be essential in this endeavour. NCHC couldn’t execute his plan without Fenton. Dan Gavitt, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, will be the most attention-grabbing figure at the NCAA tournament.

I have a lot of faith in Dan Gavit, said Mick Cronin of UCLA. Those of us who know Dan know how thorough and professional he is, and we trust him completely. In the meantime, nothing will be perfect. I think everyone should recognize that and [complete] and help those trying to qualify for the NCAA tournament and college basketball season.

Florida state Leonard Hamilton said that once the tournaments begin, the NCAA’s approach will depend on how the country treats the virus, and said federal, state and local leaders should also be part of the paradigm.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Although the NCAA has been slow with its plans, the basketball players have expressed their confidence in Dan Gavit. Robert Deutsch/USA Monday Sport

Where did the transfer come from? He said. You can’t point the finger at people from Indianapolis. It’s bigger than her.

While gamekeepers think about these issues, the school basketball may not have to wait until March to run the bubble model. Many leagues consider a bubble similar to NCHC as a Plan B option in case a virus disrupts their conference season.

Tom Valdiserri, who ran the Maui 2020 Invitational whose organizers had to move to Asheville, North Carolina, said some Power 5 leagues have already contacted him about possible off-season calls. He also spoke to Gavit, he said.

Valdiseri stated that the Maui Invitational was the only full tournament where no team gave up or cancelled. Strict measures, like. B. The safety of the hotel and the frequent tests have contributed to the success of his event, he said. CNSC staff stated that the NCAA could also end the event with appropriate protocols.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Among the university basketball events at the beginning of the season, the Maui Invitational (in Asheville) was one of the most successful logistics events. Photo by Brian Spurlock/Sportswire Icon

If you can get there to 68, you can make it, he said. But it’s a monumental task.

Most seem ready to bet on the NCAA tournament this season – no matter what the event looks like, whether there’s a bubble or not.

Honestly, I just hope we have a tournament, said Kansas coach Bill Self. We could play Indianapolis, Florida… Would that be perfect? No, but it’s not a perfect year.

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