Last year the men’s NCAA basketball tournament was not merely staged without fans, it was cancelled outright as the early and most fearful days of the global COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. It was an extreme decision in the face of an unknown threat that the governing body of college athletics could not sustain a second consecutive year.

The March Madness tournament annually generates around $700 million for the association, and the NCAA governing body uses that money to fund both their own existence, and their entire slate of championships across the remaining three divisions. Going without that money once was a hardship, doing it twice could spell doom. 

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball, now has stated publicly that the tournament will be staged this year in spite of any difficulties, according to a Tweet from Indianapolis Star writer Zach Osterman.

Whether or not fans—the biggest drivers of revenue outside the television contracts—will be allowed to attend remains up in the air. Family members, however, are guaranteed to be admitted into the games, again per Osterman. 

The March Madness tournament deal between the NCAA and both CBS and Turner Broadcasting is the most profitable arrangement for its partners in all of sports, which includes every American professional league. The monies are split up between NCAA administrators, used to stage their championship events, and to fund the association’s member institutions. The only ones not being paid directly from the arrangement are the players people pay to watch. Just so long as we remember it’s an amateur game.