For obvious reasons, March Madness, which is scheduled to tip off next week, will look much different this year.

But for any college basketball fanatic, that’s just fine. A year after the NCAA Tournament was canceled abruptly due to the pandemic, fans — not to mention players and coaches — are thrilled to have a tournament at all. 

In an attempt to maximize safety precautions and minimize the risk of potential disruptions, the NCAA announced in January that the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament will be played in the state of Indiana, a place that is synonymous with basketball. 

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Former BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland wholeheartedly endorses the decision to stage the Big Dance in the Hoosier State. As far as he’s concerned, the NCAA has selected the ideal place to host one of the country’s biggest sporting events.  

Cleveland, who coached the Cougars from 1997-05 and Fresno State from 2005-10, served as the president of the Indiana Indianapolis Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2013-16. 

During his time there, Cleveland oversaw hundreds of missionaries serving throughout the state, including on college campuses where this year’s tournament will be played. 

“There’s not much of Indiana that I don’t know. There couldn’t be a better place for the NCAA Tournament. There’s so much energy and enthusiasm in that state for hoops. It’s going to be great in Indiana. I love that place. It’s like a second home for me.” — Steve Cleveland

“There’s not much of Indiana that I don’t know. There couldn’t be a better place for the NCAA Tournament,” Cleveland said. “There’s so much energy and enthusiasm in that state for hoops. It’s going to be great in Indiana. I love that place. It’s like a second home for me.”

Having the tournament in Indiana makes a lot of sense, considering that it is a hoop-crazed state. One of the most iconic basketball movies of all time, “Hoosiers,” is all about Indiana high school basketball. Legendary Larry Bird hails from French Lick, Indiana, and he played collegiately at Indiana State. He led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Final Four, which was played at the University of Utah. 

In 1976, under coach Bob Knight, Indiana University won the national title with a perfect 32-0 record. The Hoosiers are the last team to go undefeated through the entire season and finish unbeaten by capturing the NCAA Tournament championship. That’s something this year’s No. 1 Gonzaga (26-0) squad is attempting to replicate in 2021.

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The 2021 tournament field, seedings and matchups, will be revealed this weekend on Selection Sunday. The tournament starts Thursday with the First Four and the first round tips off Friday and Saturday. The Final Four is scheduled for April 3 and April 5. 

The NCAA has mandated that all tier 1 individuals (players, coaches, training staff) must have seven consecutive days of negative tests prior to arriving in Indiana. Players must have an additional two negative PCR tests before starting practice.

BYU, which is projected as a single-digit seed, began its mandatory testing last Sunday night in Las Vegas. 

All 67 NCAA Tournament games, from the First Four to the Final Four, will be played in and around Indianapolis at a variety of venues — Lucas Oil Stadium (on two courts, though only one game at a time will be played there), Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena (West Lafayette) and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington). 

Actor Gene Hackman gives fictional Hickory High basketball players instructions during filming of the final game of the movie “Hoosiers” at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus, Friday, Dec. 6, 1985, in Indianapolis. Hinkle Fieldhouse will be among the venues used when the NCAA Tournament is staged in Indiana this month. | Tom Strickland, Associated Press

Hinkle Fieldhouse, on the campus of Butler University, is where the final game scenes in “Hoosiers” were filmed. It’s known as “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral.” 

BYU senior Matt Haarms played for three seasons at Mackey Arena, home of Purdue University. 

While in Indiana, NCAA Tournament teams will practice at the Indiana Convention Center with multiple courts set up inside. All teams will stay on dedicated hotel floors with physically distanced meeting and dining rooms. Secure transportation to and from competition venues will also be provided. 

The NCAA will allow a limited number of fans at the 2021 NCAA Tournament, including all rounds and the Final Four. The NCAA is allowing up to 25% capacity with physical distancing. The decision was made in conjunction with state and local health authorities. 

Cleveland said the state of Indiana is well-equipped to host the tournament.

During his three years directing missionary work in Indiana, Cleveland also managed to find a little time to take in some basketball. Toward the end of his mission, his children arrived in Indiana for a visit. 

“I had never been to a high school game in Indiana,” Cleveland said. “I thought, I can’t leave here without going to a high school game. So I went to two or three high school games. My boys and my grandsons came out and we went to a couple of games. They also went to the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.”

BYU coach Steve Cleveland on the sideline of the BYU-Utah game at the Marriott Center in Provo. March 1, 2003.
BYU coach Steve Cleveland on the sideline of the BYU-Utah basketball game at the Marriott Center in Provo on March 1, 2003. Having spent three years in the Hoosier State as a mission president, Cleveland is confident the NCAA found the right place to stage this year’s NCAA Tournament. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
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People in Indiana identified Cleveland as the former coach of Paul George, who was, at that time, a superstar with the Indiana Pacers. Cleveland coached George at Fresno State. 

The Indianapolis mission boundaries take in the campuses of Purdue, Indiana, Indiana State and Notre Dame.  

“We had a lot of missionaries serving on all of the campuses. So I spent a lot of time on all the campuses,” Cleveland said. “I popped my head in a couple of times and saw the arenas at places like IU and Purdue and Indiana State. I’ve been in every one of those arenas.”

BYU hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. Next week, Cleveland’s former program will be part of a unique Big Dance that will be played entirely in the state of Indiana — and will be steeped in Hoosier State basketball tradition.

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