The tests before the test: life inside the San Antonio bubble

Kalle Martinez and the rest of the Chippewas practiced for the first time in San Antonio Thursday. Central Michigan Athletics photo.

By the time NCAA Tournament teams reach the court for the first time Sunday or Monday, they will have already been seriously tested, both literally and figuratively.

Teams in the San Antonio “bubble” for the two-week event are undergoing COVID testing, quarantining and staying in a restricted area to guarantee safe participation for all, according to NCAA vice president of women’s basketball Lynn Holzman.

After being selected into the field of 64 this past Monday, 31 teams arrived in San Antonio the next day, and the remaining 33 came Wednesday. Once there, each member of the traveling party had to isolate in a single-occupancy hotel room.

“They had to have two days of testing before they will be released from quarantine,” Holzman said. “What that means is that they….had to be in their rooms, essentially.”

The NCAA bought out seven hotels just for team use, so that only athletes and traveling parties – who have had to have seven negative tests in seven days to be there – are the sole occupants. Each team has its own hotel floor, and within that framework, there are additional constrictions.

“The movement of the elevators has to be timed, in order for them to, as a team, move down the elevators to walk into the secure corridor outside to the Convention Center for their (daily) testing,” Holzman said.

Maintaining a controlled environment with managed access points is critical to maintaining safety, Holzman said. So far it seems to be working, as there has been only one positive COVID result out of 2,700 tests so far. Teams will continue to test daily.

Today the Tournament’s first arrivals began emerging from quarantine, and NCAA staff said it was making all of the work they’d put into preparing for the event worth it.

“Through the medical protocols, today is the first day that our teams are able to practice,” Holzman said. “This morning what we’re starting to hear is basketballs bouncing and balls going through hoops, which means that we’re doing this.”

The first round of the Tournament kicks off Sunday and completes Monday. Round 2 will be Tuesday and Wednesday. Games will be played on six courts in the area.

Other notes:

  • Holzman and Jenny Carnes, the executive director of the San Antonio Organizing Committee, said 85 percent of Division I games were played this season, due to cancellations and other COVID-related factors.
  • There are no plans right now to replace any of the teams (for positive tests), nor any of the 60 referees on site.
  • Some of the Tournament games will be broadcast on ABC for the first time.