The NCAA has established contingency plans should a team be forced to withdraw from the NCAA tournament due to issues with COVID-19.
Once the bracket is finalized and released to the public on Selection Sunday, the bracket will not change, nor will teams be reseeded. However, there will be replacement teams on standby ready to fill in should a team be unable to participate.
Replacement teams will only be chosen before the tournament begins, and will be determined based on if the withdrawing team was an automatic qualifier from a one-bid conference or a team from a conference with multiple tournament participants.
If a withdrawing team is the automatic qualifier from a conference that sent just one team to the tournament, another team from that same conference will be the replacement.
“Should an automatic qualifier, as determined by each conference, be unable to meet the medical protocols and participate in its first game of the [tournament], the conference may designate a replacement team, as determined by its [automatic qualifier] policy submitted by the Feb. 26 deadline,” the NCAA policy reads.
If it is determined that the replacement team for the automatic qualifier is needed before the bracket is revealed, the replacement team will be “appropriately seeded and placed into the bracket before the announcement” on Selection Sunday. If a replacement team is needed after the bracket reveal, it will “take the place of its fellow conference member in the same place on the bracket.”
The replacement team, of course, must meet the NCAA’s medical protocols, which include seven consecutive daily negative tests for COVID-19.
What about multi-bid conferences and at-large teams?
For teams from a conference that was slated to send more than one team to the NCAA tournament, the replacement policies are a bit more complicated.
Most simply explained, the last four teams that did not make the original NCAA tournament field as at-large teams will be designated as replacement teams “if they choose to be considered as much.”
Those four teams will be ranked 1-4, with the first team out being first in line as a potential replacement team. The four teams will remain on their respective campuses and continue COVID-19 testing protocol until it is determined whether or not they need to travel to Indianapolis for the tournament. If any of the four replacement teams are not needed, they will be No. 1 seeds in the NIT, which is scheduled for first-round play March 17-20.
Before the bracket is revealed, potential at-large teams must determine if they are able to meet the medical protocols for participation by 11 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 13.
But if a replacement team is needed after the bracket reveal, the replacement team will be placed in the bracket “in the position left vacant by the withdrawing team.”
It’s also possible there could be forfeits. From the NCAA:
The deadline for consideration of replacing a team unable to participate due to COVID-19 is Tuesday, March 16, at 6 p.m. Eastern time. No replacement teams will be introduced into the NCAA championship bracket after the deadline. Once the tournament has begun, no team will replace a team that has a COVID-19 issue and can no longer participate in the championship. Its opponent would advance to the next round via the no-contest rule.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced on Sunday, March 14. The “First Four” games will take place on Thursday, March 18 before first-round play begins March 19 and 20.
The entire NCAA tournament will be played in the state of Indiana with the majority of the games taking place at venues in Indianapolis. Other sites Mackey Arena at Purdue University in West Lafayette and Assembly Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington.
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