On Tuesday, the NCAA rolled out the schedule for the 2021 men’s basketball tournament, which will completely take place in the state of Indiana due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the geographically tight game sites, there are several other notable changes to this year’s tournament.
? #MarchMadness Scheduling Update!
? 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
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 19, 2021
Here it is spelled out a little better.
- Sunday, March 14th: Selection Sunday
- Thursday, March 18th: First Four
- Friday, March 19th and Saturday, March 20th: First Round
- Sunday, March 21st and Monday, March 22nd: Second Round
- Saturday, March 27th and Sunday, March 28th: Sweet 16
- Monday, March 29th and Tuesday, March 30th: Elite 8
- Saturday, April 3rd: Final Four
- Monday, April 5th: National Championship
In short, the First Four games have been condensed from two days into one, and pushed back from Tuesday and Wednesday to Thursday. The First and Second Rounds have been bumped back a day. The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 have been pushed back two days. The Final Four and National Championship remain on their traditional schedules.
As for game windows, the NCAA is understandably fuzzy so far. For the first two rounds, “typical broadcast windows” are mentioned across the NCAA’s TV partners, CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV. In the Sweet 16, each of the eight games will have its own window, which makes sense given that the round will take place on the weekend rather than Thursday and Friday. The Elite 8 games will take place in primetime on Monday and Tuesday.
This year, CBS has the Final Four and National Championship, The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 will air on CBS and TBS, and truTV is expected to air the First Four once again.
Personally, I’m interested in an entire Saturday of first round games. The rare few that would feel guilty about taking off work (or procrastinating during work) to watch basketball would now get to watch guilt-free. Sure, it would be even better if sports bars across the country were open for the ~12 hours of basketball in the first round, but we’ll take what we can get at this point.
Aside from that, the exclusive Sweet 16 windows on weekends is an interesting development, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the NCAA looked into keeping that arrangement in a post-pandemic world. Shifting the Elite 8 games to weeknights also makes sense, if only because the networks wouldn’t be competing with each other for viewers as they traditionally do during the Sweet 16 round.
Here’s hoping the tournament is actually able to go off without a hitch.