By TOM SHINE
Kansas News Service
There will be no March Madness in Wichita next spring.
The NCAA said Monday it plans to move its entire 68-team men’s basketball tournament to Indiana for safety reasons. This year’s tournament was canceled just as the pandemic was beginning in March.
Brad Pittman, senior associate athletic director at Wichita State University, was helping coordinate the tournament games in Wichita. He says the 13 host cities got the news Monday in a conference call with the NCAA.
"Obviously you're disappointed," Pittman said. "You work hard and these events, they're marquee events that you'd like to have in your city.
"I think in the back of our mind, we all kind of understood and knew that if things got bad, this was an option that would be considered."
The Final Four already was scheduled for Indianapolis, home of the NCAA.
The NCAA said having all the teams play in a single geographic area will cut down on travel for participating teams. It also will allow the NCAA to maintain a controlled environment for team hotels, and for practice and competition sites.
The NBA recently completed its season by having all of its teams stay and play in Orlando, Florida, where the league could react to any health issues.
"We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic," Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. "However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced."
Pittman said the NCAA’s decision, though difficult for local basketball fans, makes sense.
"They're looking at this from the perspective of how can we pull off a tournament and do it the safest way possible," he said. "And this was the conclusion they came to."
Pittman said earlier this year that even if Wichita were to host games, there likely would be a limited number of fans in attendance. Tournament games here in 2018 drew sellout crowds to Intrust Bank Arena, in large part because the Kansas Jayhawks were in the field.
The NCAA men’s tournament is scheduled to return to Wichita in 2025, and the women’s tournament in 2022. The NCAA has not announced its plans for the 2021 women’s tournament.
College basketball teams, including WSU, are scheduled to begin play on Nov. 25. Pittman said he would resume focusing on the Shockers, including how many fans will be allowed into Koch Arena.
"For me, it's going back to my day job and working on what our season's going to look like here in a little bit and trying to make that the best it can possibly be," he said.
"And when the dust settles on this and it's appropriate, we'll start looking at (2022) and see what we can do there."