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Local officials split on fan attendance at Mackey March Madness

Leaders and public health officials are beginning to form a game plan for the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament, which will take place at Mackey Arena and other sites across Indiana.

Posted: Jan 6, 2021 2:18 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Local officials are split on the prospect of fans attending March Madness at Mackey Arena.

As News 18 previously reported, Mackey Arena is one of several sites across Indiana chosen to host games for the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Officials say there's huge potential for an economic boost but also the possibility of further spread of COVID-19. And there's still debate about how many fans - if any - should be allowed.

"I would like to see some audience participation," says West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis. "I would like to see a significant amount of people, visitors, coming to our community and again, that's on both sides of the river."

Dennis is enticed by fan attendance and the ensuing economic boost.

"It's definitely going to bring a strong economic presence with it and because of what's been happening with our economy because of COVID, it's going to be a very welcome shot in the arm, no pun intended," he says. 

But Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler says allowing fans would be a bad idea based on the numbers right now in the community.

"That could be different by the time March comes around, so I think those are discussions that will need to be had and will really depend on what direction things go with the pandemic," he says.

NCAA is putting several protocols in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, including mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Game attendance right now is limited to family members, similar to the Big Ten Conference's model for the football and basketball seasons.

"It looks like the model they're going to be following is very similar to what the Big Ten has been following for their sports, so I think it should work just fine," Adler says. 

Athletes will stay at hotels in Indianapolis in a bubble and will be bused to games in West Lafayette.

"With that system in mind, from a public health standpoint, I think there really aren't any concerns," Adler says. "I think things should go smoothly."

Adler is also urging basketball fans to avoid the temptation of gathering in large groups to watch March Madness on TV at their homes or local bars and restaurants.

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