INDIANAPOLIS — The countdown is on.
In a few weeks, Lucas Oil Stadium will be home to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, hosting the Elite Eight, Final Four and the national championship game.
Crews started constructing the setup this week, preparing for not just teams, but also fans.
The NCAA announced it will allow up to 25-percent capacity for all rounds of the 2021 tournament. The first games tip-off on March 18.
Lucas Oil Stadium Director Eric Neuburger has been working closely with the NCAA. The stadium has hosted publicly ticketed events since July, but this tournament will be the most important event they’ve hosted since the pandemic began.
“We are always under pressure. We enjoy that pressure. We thrive under that pressure. We are a venue that prides itself on doing the biggest events for the most people. This will be a little different this year, but that pressure still remains,” Neuburger said.
The venue has had practice in the past with hosting the Final Four in 2010 and 2015. They are also scheduled to host it in 2026.
“In order to go from a football field to the basketball court, it takes a lot of planning and normally this would go on over the course of years,” Neuburger said.
This year, there will be two courts set up. This will allow time to clean in between games.
“This time we are kind of going back to our roots when we would host the Final Four at the Hoosier Dome or RCA Dome and it would be on one half of the football field. So that’s what we are trying to recreate here,” he said.
Neuburger said there will be limited seating, not just for the public, but for others. The team benches will look different to allow room for social distancing.
“We are really dedicated to making sure social distancing is on display at this event and we have the space to do it,” he said.
Crews have covered the football turf with a hard-plastic flooring that the basketball courts will go on top of. They also installed structures to hold the center-home displays that will have video screens and scoreboards to make the fan experience special.
“As a stadium director and throughout my career, the thing that makes me the most excited is the energy that comes with big events and that’s something we’ve been missing,” Neuburger said.
Fans can expect extra safety protocols, similar to what was done during the Indianapolis Colts' season. That includes a contactless payment system at concession stands, digital tickets and mask enforcement. The venues will also be cleaned and disinfected during the tournament.
The entire tournament will be held in Indiana, with 55 of the 67 games being played in Indianapolis.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than that. We feel like we are going to be the center of the basketball universe,” Neuburger said.
Specific attendance numbers will depend on the venue and more information about ticket sales will be available on March 1.