- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The recent lifting of the mask mandate in Texas has not changed the NCAA’s COVID-19 regulations for the 2021 Division I women’s basketball tournament in the San Antonio area later this month. On Thursday, the NCAA reiterated that the planned protocols will require masking and social distancing for the tournament’s official travel parties, guests and fans.
Coaches such as UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey said they feel confident in the NCAA guidelines.
“I don’t know that we’ll be interacting with anybody that’s not part of the NCAA basketball community,” Auriemma said Thursday. “So I’d probably be much more concerned if we had to interact with the general public, but we don’t. And I’m sure every precaution will be taken to make sure that our athletes and coaches and staff and administrators are safe.”
Texas governor Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he was lifting the mask mandate and allowing businesses to open up “100 percent” as of March 10. The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that not all of Abbott’s four medical advisers were on board with the decision.
The 64-team field will be announced on Selection Monday, March 15 (ESPN/ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET), and the first round runs March 21-22, with games in San Antonio, San Marcos and Austin. The second round, March 23-24, will have games at three sites in San Antonio. From the Sweet 16 on, starting March 27, all games will be at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Women’s Final Four is April 2-4.
The 16-team men’s NIT also will be held in Texas, at arenas in Frisco and Denton, part of the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The NCAA released a statement after Abbott’s announcement: “Protecting the health and safety of participants and fans during NCAA championships remains the NCAA’s priority. In preparation for the 2021 Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), as well as all other championships, the NCAA has monitored ongoing COVID-19 developments in all states since the onset of the pandemic. We will continue to work closely with local medical authorities, the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group, and CDC guidelines to determine the appropriate health and safety protocols for our events.”
The NCAA announced last month that it would allow fans at the women’s tournament from the Sweet 16 on, at a 17% capacity for the Alamodome. The early rounds will be limited to teams and guests, with each member of the 34-person official team travel party allowed up to six tickets for guests.
Mulkey, whose university is in Waco, Texas, said that although she understood the motivation behind Abbott’s decision to lift the mandate, she also understood it makes some people uncomfortable.
“Removing the government mandate doesn’t necessarily mean removing the masks,” Mulkey said. “Businesses in Texas, they’re free to still require masks, and many have already announced plans to do that.”
Mulkey said because of what’s already in place with procedures and protocols by the schools, the conferences and the NCAA, she is not concerned that the NCAA tournament might have any disruption because of the lifting of the mandate.
“Baylor, at this point, they still require masks for students and staff. So I’m gonna respect that decision and I’ll wear my mask at work,” she said. “The NCAA is requiring us to wear a mask while in San Antonio, and I respect that decision. We will follow the guidelines of Baylor University and the NCAA.”
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