Why does March Madness start on a Friday in 2021? Explaining the new NCAA Tournament schedule

We’re just days away from the start of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but college basketball fans will have to wait an extra 24 hours this year to enjoy March Madness.

Since expanding to 64 teams in 1985, the NCAA Tournament has always started on the Thursday following Selection Sunday. This year, however, it will start on Friday. The answer — as with most changes with March Madness this year — has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That change starts with the First Four. Since its 2011 inception, the First Four has always taken place over Tuesday and Wednesday, with winners from Tuesday’s games playing in the first round on Thursday and Wednesday’s winners playing on Friday. This year, however, each of the First Four games will take place on Thursday.

Why has the First Four been changed to a one-night event? It all has to do with changing logistics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The entirety of the 2021 NCAA Tournament will take place in the state of Indiana, with the majority of it in Indianapolis. Each team will need to have at least five players produce seven straight days of negative COVID-19 test results to be eligible. Considering the extensive safety protocols the NCAA has in place for the 2021 tournament, it’s likely the organization expects few issues in a semi-bubble situation.

In that sense, it makes sense it would move the tournament back a day to ensure teams have as much time as possible to make sure their teams are healthy. (Just ask Kansas and Virginia).

The second round will take place immediately after the first round on Sunday and Monday. From there, the Sweet 16 will take place on Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28. The Elite Eight rounds will take place immediately following the round on Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30. The Final Four and national championship will take place on Sunday, April 3 and Monday, April 5, respectively.

Below is a rundown of the First Four and first round portions of the 2021 NCAA Tournament schedule.

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March Madness schedule 2021

First Four

Thursday, March 18

Round 1

Friday, March 19

Saturday, March 20

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