(INDIANAPOLIS) — Five days into the all-Indiana men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA’s
president says it’s working “spectacularly,” while conceding the organization “dropped the ball” at
the women’s tourney in Texas.
Mark Emmert says after canceling last year, the NCAA wanted to do anything possible to allow
this year’s tourney to be played. The men’s basketball tournament brings in 80% of the NCAA’s revenue, but Emmert told the Economic Club of Indiana the organization also wanted to
make sure players didn’t miss a second straight opportunity to play on college basketball’s
biggest stage. He recalls telephoning the University of Dayton last year, when the Flyers were
ranked third in the country and likely to earn their first-ever top seed in the tournament, to break
the news the tournament wouldn’t happen.
Emmert says it was clear holding the 2021 tournament would mean playing in fewer locations,
and says while the NCAA considered other cities, the focus turned quickly to Indianapolis. Not
only is Indy the NCAA’s home base, it was already scheduled to host this year’s Final Four. And
Emmert says the NCAA knew going in that Indy would have the facilities and experience to pull
off the tournament. He says Indiana’s organizers approach the tournament with an eye
to putting egos aside to make everything work smoothly, something he says isn’t always true of other venues.
COVID infections forced Virginia Commonwealth out of the tournament before it ever played a
game, but Mark Emmert says that’s not a failure, but a sign of people doing their jobs. He says
it’s been “fun to watch” the preparation for the tournament come together, and says given that
games are being played after last year’s health departments and Indiana’s sports and tourism
offices have delivered on assurances they could conduct the tournament safely.
The remainder of the tourney will be played in Indianapolis, after stretching to Bloomington and
West Lafayette for the “First Four” and some first-round matchups.
While the men’s tournament has gone relatively smoothly, Emmert concedes the same hasn’t
been true with the women’s tournament. Players and coaches have pointed out disparities in
everything from pregame meals to COVID testing, and Oregon forward Sedona Prince’s video of a
sparsely equipped weight room went viral.
Emmert maintains some of those issues are more “communications failures” than actual
disparities. He says San Antonio health officials made the decision to use rapid antigen tests, and
insists there’s no medical or health difference with the PCR tests being used in Indy, despite the
antigen tests’ higher rate of false negatives. And he argues the rack of hand weights highlighted by
Prince’s video was an exercise room, not a full weight room.
But Emmert says those are “explanations, not excuses.” He says the NCAA was too slow to
respond to the issues at the women’s tournament, and says he’s concerned the controversy will
pull focus away from the athletes.
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