NOEL KING, HOST:
This year, for the first time in NCAA history, the entire March Madness tournament will be held in one metro area - in central Indiana. This is pandemic related, of course, and the economic benefit to the area could be huge, but the health risks are also major. Here's Samantha Horton of Indiana Public Broadcasting.
SAMANTHA HORTON, BYLINE: This spring, 68 men's basketball teams from colleges and universities across the country will gather in Indianapolis for a March Madness. That includes athletes, coaches and staff, along with families and press. The organizers' goal is to create a bubble similar to what the NBA did over the summer. Indianapolis was already set to host the Final Four this year, which NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt says made it a logical choice.
DAN GAVITT: We knew when we made the decision to come to one geographic location that having as many of those venues in the city of Indianapolis and in Marion County in particular was important for the health protocols to be very similar.
HORTON: Gavitt says the city's long history of hosting sporting events should help. The NCAA is headquartered here in the city. And there's enough venues, hotels and transportation. Teams will stay in the four downtown hotels all connected to Lucas Oil Stadium, one of the six sites to be used for games. But the move will likely be a financial blow to cities that were set to host some of the games this year, including Lexington, Dallas, Dayton and San Jose.
The decision is welcome news for the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association. Its president, Patrick Tamm, says last year it saw all 20% of restaurants permanently close and two-thirds of the hotels facing bankruptcy.
PATRICK TAMM: This is phenomenal news. It is indicative of the best economic news for Indiana's hotels since March. This is tremendous news for a lot of people that have been out of work, where they now will be called and talked with.
HORTON: And the demand for rooms could increase if the NCAA decides to allow fans to attend, at a time when Indiana's averaging more than 70 deaths per day from COVID-19. University of California Berkeley epidemiologist John Swartzberg says it's important to put public health before sports.
JOHN SWARTZBERG: From the NCAA's standpoint, there's every reason to plan for it, but they have to have every reason for canceling it if things aren't dramatically better.
HORTON: But state and local officials, like Governor Eric Holcomb, argue that Indiana can handle thousands of guests and keep them safe.
ERIC HOLCOMB: We'll have the place spruced up and ready to go, just like we do for the Indy 500, just like we do for Final Fours. This is the only time that I hope this ever happens, and I say that as the potential host of all these games.
HORTON: College basketball's March Madness is scheduled to start March 16 and run through April 5.
For NPR News, I'm Samantha Horton in Indianapolis.
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