The NCAA announced some alterations in the standard schedule for March Madness recently. The first change came several weeks ago when they announced that the entire tournament would be held in Indianapolis – all 67 games. That announcement made sense; there are enough court facilities in town to provide game venues; it would allow for much less travel and an enhanced – if not perfect – “bubble environment”; and it is about as neutral a site as could be picked ahead of time. Yesterday, the NCAA announced that the normal pattern of games would be different in the 2021 tournament:
- Normally, the 4 play-in games – – the First Four in NCAA parlance – – would take place on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday. In 2021, all four games will take place on the Thursday after Selection Sunday – – March 18,2021.
- That movement requires a change in the first-round games since the four winners of the play-in games need to take part in the first-round games which normally would begin on the Thursday after Selection Sunday. This year, the first-round games will be held on Friday and Saturday – – March 19 and March 20, 2021.
- That would push the second-round games to Sunday and Monday – – March 21 and March 22, 2021.
- Sweet Sixteen games will be Saturday and Sunday – – March 27 and 28, 2021 – – this year as opposed to Thursday and Friday as in the past.
- Regional finals will be Monday and Tuesday – – March 29 and March 30, 2021.
- The Final Four games will be Saturday April 3, 2021 with the Championship Game taking place on Monday April 5, 2021.
It will be interesting to see how fans react to the new timing of the games. There are several positive aspects to it not the least of which is that four of the teams involved in two of the play-in games do not have to do a turn-around from Sunday to Tuesday to play their first tournament game. That put the winners of the first set of play-in games on a schedule to play Tuesday, Thursday and then Saturday if they won the first two games. This scheduling spreads out those games.
I will reserve judgement regarding the shifting of the Sweet Sixteen games and the regional finals simply because I can convince myself that it is either a significant change or a trivial one depending on how I look at it. So, rather than make a pronouncement now, I think I will just experience this different schedule and react to it after the fact.
We have seen that COVID-19 has a way of wreaking havoc on sports schedules for the past year or so. This scheduling is ambitious particularly considering the number of COVID-19 cases that have been detected among college basketball players and coaches so far in this patchwork season. CBSSports.com tracks canceled/postponed college basketball games for the season; as of this morning there have already been 125 such cancellations/postponements and according to the website, there are 15 more to add to the list between now and Saturday, January 23,2021.
As I said, this is an ambitious plan and given my enthusiasm for March Madness, I certainly hope it goes off without a hitch. Now, all I have to do is to tamp down that little voice in the back of my head quoting Robert Burns :
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men, gang aft agley.”
[The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.]
Moving along … There certainly has been a barrage of Internet ads for the HBO documentary on Tiger Woods. One of the promotional come-ons was the assertion that in this documentary,
- “The raw truth about Tiger Woods is about to be revealed.”
I am not big on documentaries in the first place simply because too many of them are nothing but video versions of opinion pieces; if you know more than a little bit about the producer of the documentary you pretty much know what it will “reveal” and/or “document”. They are not all that different from op-ed pieces or magazine essays where you know about the views of the author as you consume the first paragraph.
With that prejudice against documentaries as a category of events that reveal “the raw truth”, you will not be surprised to learn that I missed the first installment and plan to miss any subsequent installments. However, I find it interesting that the folks at HBO were able to put together this “revelation of raw truth” without anyone asking how such “raw truth” might have escaped the journalistic probing and “seeking of the truth for the benefit of the American public” over all those years. For way too long, the nominal journalists who cover golf have given a pass to plenty of impolite and/or anti-social behavior by various golfers and then those folks took that “look-the-other-way” school of reporting to an art form with Tiger Woods.
The reason there might even be “raw truth” to reveal about Tiger Woods is because he has had nothing but fawning coverage – bordering on idolatry – for about 20 years. A major component of the existence of such “raw truth” is the complicity of the toadies who covered golf and Tiger Woods.
Finally, the effect of COVID-19 on the NBA has also been significant this season causing the NBA to add new restrictions to its virus protocols. One such restriction is a limitation on postgame hugs and handshakes among the players. Bob Molinaro captured that element of the NBA protocol recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“These times: Thunder guard George Hill, on the NBA’s updated COVID protocol: ‘We can sweat 48 minutes a game with (an opponent) next to us, but we can’t talk to them afterwards. It makes no sense.’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………