The NCAA announced in early April that the selection process for the 2021 NCAA tournament would go a bit differently, and the biggest effect it had was that schools had to not only submit their bids early, but that teams needed to build their resumes as much as possible before the month ended.
In April, the NCAA announced that the 16 regional host sites would be decided the week of May 10, a full three weeks before selection day and more than two weeks before sites are normally announced. The reasoning behind this early announcement date, the NCAA said, was to ensure each school that submitted a bid could be thoroughly vetted and certified in terms of providing a COVID-19-free environment.
But not only will the regional round occur at predetermined sites, so will the Super Regional round, which is normally determined by the highest seed between two regional site winners who are paired together when the full 64-team bracket is announced. And the 16 Super Regional sites will be the 16 regional host sites named, so, theoretically, a host school eliminated in the regional round could host a Super Regional as a neutral site.
This essentially nullifies the prestige of being a Top 16 seed, which more often than not plays as a huge homefield advantage.
In a memo sent to NCAA coaches and administrators, the logistics of the selection process were laid out. The Miami Hurricane website obtained a copy of that memo:
“Part of the health and safety protocols for NCAA championships this year was to change to predetermined sites for all sports,” the memo said. “In order to fully prepare for COVID-19 testing procedures and protocols, more than a week is needed to prepare the site including certification as a testing site and also to confirm testing personnel from the testing provider. A minimum of three weeks is necessary to ensure that the site will be functioning efficiently. For the 2021 NCAA Division I Baseball and Softball Championships, preliminary-round sites (regionals and super regionals) will be predetermined.”
According to Kendall Rogers at D1Baseball, the selection committee decided in late April to announce the top 20 host sites the week of May 10 instead of the actual 16 regional/Super Regional host sites. The committee will cut that number to 16 on the night before the NCAA selection show, scheduled for Monday, May 31, allowing more teams to compete for host sites.
This also allows teams to continue to build their resumes through the end of the regular season and into conference postseason tournaments. At least that part of the season remains somewhat normal, now.
Those 20 schools – Arizona, Arkansas, Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida, Gonzaga, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt – were announced on May 14. Four of those schools will be eliminated when the 16 final sites are announced in a little over a week.
On April 30, the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group issued its recommendations regarding testing, vaccinations, quarantining, masking and social distancing for the NCAA spring championships. The policy went into effect on May 1.
Tier 1 individuals – those at the highest risk for exposure, including student-athletes, team travel parties and officials, who are fully vaccinated – may be exempt from routine testing during championships. The Centers for Disease Control considers someone fully vaccinated if he or she is two weeks removed from having received the single-dose vaccine or the second of two doses of the two-dose vaccine.
Fully vaccinated student-athletes and other Tier 1 individuals with no COVID-19-like symptoms will not be required to quarantine, be restricted from work or get tested after exposure to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
However, the NCAA will continue to enforce its policy on masking and physical distancing at championships, except for student-athletes or officials during competition or practice.
The NCAA also announced in April it is recommending that all sites selected to host a regional or Super Regional limit fan capacity for games to 50 percent, which will cause consternation for some programs.
On April 28, LSU announced it would allow 100 percent capacity at Alex Box Stadium after Gov. John Bel Edwards lifted the state’s mask mandate later that day. In March, Texas Tech followed suit after Gov. Greg Abbott announced, in Lubbock, that the state’s mask mandate would be lifted, and businesses could return to 100 percent capacity. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have been near full capacity for most of the season as well.
The NCAA, however, recommends that schools still limit capacity for fans, which could lead to some stadiums that are normally packed to the gills for postseason games looking relatively empty.
“The NCAA will allow up to 50 percent fan capacity for its 2021 outdoor spring championships and Division I fall championships being held in the spring, based on recommendations from the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group,” the NCAA said in a news release posted on its website. “Exact capacity percentages will vary by site, depending on state and local health mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Championships hosted in cities and states that do not allow spectators or where the site is deemed to lack the capacity for spectators from a health and safety standpoint will allow only essential personnel within the competition venue.”
The 50 percent capacity limit would exist not only for the regionals and Super Regionals but would extend to the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. That means roughly only 12,000 fans would be able to attend an event that packs the park every night, regardless of the teams playing, and draws hundreds of thousands of fans to the epicenter of the Midwest for 10 days every year.
“My assumption is unless something goes dramatically south, there will be fans in the stands,” Roger Dixon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority of Omaha told the Omaha World-Herald. “To what percentage would be a guess on my part. Since it’s outdoors, it could be 50 percent. If it was our call, it would be something (more).”
So, while a regular season that, on the surface at least, has looked as normal as possible comes to a close, the postseason will be anything but. But it could be worse.
It could be 2020 with no baseball at all. This, at least, is progress.