Basketball is king in Indiana.
The sport is – like football in Texas – one of the state’s defining characteristics.
Indiana is home to 11 of the nation’s 12 largest high school gyms, trailblazing college programs and personalities, and the most iconic basketball movie ever made.
What could be next?
Yes, the entire thing is likely happening in Indianapolis.
NCAA targets Indy for 2021 tournament
The NCAA announced this week that it is in talks with Hoosier officials to hold all of March Madness in Indianapolis.
The city, already the planned Final Four host, would be home to 68 teams and each tournament game. The previous plan was for 13 different cities to host early-round games.
Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, explained the decision in a statement.
“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic. However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”
Indianapolis is expected to be confirmed as the site by the New Year.
The city’s bubble-ized March Madness tournament could be played at a variety of sites depending on whether fans are allowed to attend:
- Indiana Convention Center
- Bankers Life Fieldhouse
- Hinkle Fieldhouse
- University of Indianapolis
- Marian University
- Lucas Oil Stadium
What would this mean for Indiana – and betting?
As for betting, the impact is obvious: March Madness will exist and so will its handle.
This year’s cancellation of the uber-popular tournament cost the sports-betting industry billions of dollars and caused confusion over wagering on the event.
Indiana was exempt from none of it considering its status as a basketball-centric area.
The state lost millions in expected handle, impeding Indiana’s betting industry growth following its legalization the previous fall.
Indiana has since regained that momentum and tallied back-to-back record-breaking months.
The incoming college basketball season will only help.
But the overall effect of March Madness and its presence in Indiana on the state’s betting market will depend on a variety of factors.
One is how many people will be allowed to attend games, if any.
Wagers will increase if fans are present. College fan bases have a penchant for traveling to show support.
But if the NCAA doesn’t allow in-person attendance, fans likely will not travel to Indianapolis just to sit inside a nearby bar. Instead, they’ll watch and bet from their home states.
Still, even without major fan travel, more than 60 teams would be bringing players, staffs, and families to Indianapolis.
That would undoubtedly create a much-needed economic boost for the city, but it also brings health and safety hurdles that still need to be sorted out.
The college basketball world will be closely monitoring these issues.
Could March Madness become May Madness?
In fact, rising coronavirus cases have caused at least one prominent coach to say the NCAA should push back the upcoming college basketball season.
Iona head coach Rick Pitino, best known for successful stretches at Kentucky and Louisville, wants to see March Madness delayed.
Save the Season. Move the start back. Play league schedule and have May Madness. Spiking and protocols make it impossible to play right now.
— Rick Pitino (@RealPitino) November 14, 2020
There is a clear rationale to Pitino’s thinking.
COVID-19 is currently spiking to unseen levels. The effect of the virus on college football has been massive, with regular game cancellations and ongoing complications.
It’s something Pitino hopes to avoid when games start next week.
Some prominent scientists, meanwhile, have predicted widespread vaccine availability by April.
Such a timeline – vaccine in April, Madness in May – would provide the possibility of a close-to-regular tournament.
Right now, many factors are still up in the air.