The NCAA released the schedule for the 2021 Division I men's basketball tournament, which will be staged in and around Indianapolis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Action will begin March 18 with the First Four games and run through April 5. Lucas Oil Stadium will host the Elite Eight and Final Four contests.
NCAA March Madness @marchmadness
🚨 #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 👉 https://t.co/faeZsTVieb https://t.co/0grpnEwAn4
While the schedule is broadly the same as fans have come to expect with March Madness, there are some slight tweaks. Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement:
"The 2021 March Madness schedule is primarily a function of the health and safety protocols for all participants, respecting conference tournaments, balancing time away from campus for college student-athletes, competitive considerations for a national championship and fan engagement during a relatively traditional tournament timetable. We are most appreciative of CBS Sports and Turner Sports for their collaboration and support of the tournament."
The length of the First Four has been halved from two days to one.
In addition, the first round will be on a Friday and Saturday, pushing the second round back to Sunday and Monday. The first round is usually underway Thursday, so college basketball fans might be happy they only have to take one day off from work to follow the action.
Typically, the regional semifinals and finals take place over the span of three days. Instead, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are each afforded two days respectively. That will allow all of the Sweet 16 games to tip off at separate times rather than having to overlap. The Elite Eight, meanwhile, will get prime-time slots for Monday, March 29, and Tuesday, March 30.
The full television schedule will be announced at a later date. The 68-team field will be revealed March 14 on Selection Sunday.