Two days ago, the NCAA announced that it plans to move the entire 68-team men’s basketball tournament to one city in 2021, as opposed to the 13 predetermined preliminary round sites. The decision came after it became apparent to the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee that conducting the championship at the preliminary round sites, which are spread throughout the country, would be very difficult to execute in the current pandemic environment. The Committee decided the championship should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event and its members.
Where would such a large scale basketball tournament occur? Why none other than the home of the NCAA, Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA has already begun preliminary discussions with the state of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis to potentially host the tournament. This is likely in part because Indianapolis was already set to host the Final Four in April. Aiming to have March Madness in a single city makes the most logistical sense. It reduces risk of the COVID-19 virus transmission that players, coaches and staffers would be exposed to by flying across country throughout the tournament, and allows all mitigation efforts to be focused in one geographic location.
The committee noted that the 2021 NCAA Tournament would not be held in a “bubble,” rather the preferred term is a “controlled environment.” Really though, what’s the difference? Will the testing protocols and precautions not be similar to, if not the same as, the professional bubbles? In order to ensure the health and safety of 68 teams, a bubble would make the most sense. While many further details are to be determined in the coming weeks and months, one thing is for sure — March Madness is going to be played, and it’s going to be played safely.
But March Madness won’t be the only bubble, or “controlled environment,” in college basketball this upcoming season and it is on the verge of starting. The Mohegan Sun, a resort casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut will be college basketball’s hub for the start of the 2020-21 season on November 25 both for multi-team events and single games. Over an 11-day period (Nov. 25-Dec. 5), the resort will host 45 games, showcasing 40 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball teams. The packed schedule earned the resort the nickname “Bubbleville” based on a similar approach taken by NBA when it played the remainder of its season at Walt Disney.
Several high profile teams will be headlining the schedule, including #2 Baylor, #3 Villanova, #4 Virginia for the men and #3 UConn, #5 Louisville, and #6 Mississippi State for the women. Some of the events taking place in Bubbleville include the Roman Legends Classic, the 2K Empire Classic, the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge, and more. The full schedule for Bubbleville can be found here.
The reality of the pandemic is not lost on “Bubbleville” organizers. While they are confident the event will take place, they realize that they need to be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. Nevertheless, they want to show that playing in a controlled environment can be done successfully. CBS Sports reports that a rigorous testing protocol will be administered in the two week prior in addition to hotel security on all team floors to ensure safety measures when teams aren’t playing, practicing, or doing anything else as a group. Staff, officials, TV production crews, etc. will also be on isolated floors and be granted back-of-house access to the arena. Everyone who arrives will be subject to immediate PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing.
“Bubbleville” is set to begin in less than a week. The key to this? Everyone attending must produce a negative test the day before leaving for Mohegan Sun, and then a deep-nose PCR test is administered upon arrival. Quarantining in hotel rooms for the next 12-or-so hours will be mandatory while tests results await.
Some may be asking, “how is this even possible with statewide shutdowns?” Well, the Resort sits on protected tribal land in Connecticut, which puts the Mohegan Sun in a unique position. The Unites States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, guarantees sovereign rights to federally recognized Native American nations. Tribal sovereignty means that the Mohegan Tribe, like all federally recognized Native American Tribes, is an “independent government entity” and independently determines its own fate and governs its own affairs. The Mohegan Sun is governed by Tribal Council, not the State of Connecticut. Therefore, the Resort is exempt from certain restrictions at the statewide level and has its own health and emergency services department.
If the Mohegan Sun “Bubbleville” is successfully executed, this begs the question – will other bubble tournaments happen on protected Native American land? There over 500 federally recognized Native American nations ranging all across the country. New York alone is home to eight of these nations, one of which sit in the Western New York region, Seneca Nation. What is more, the Seneca Nation is home to three resort casinos similar to the Mohegan Sun. Is there a possibility for big time college basketball to come to Buffalo?