Game winners at the buzzer, bracket-busting upsets, cutting down the nets — those are the charms of the NCAA basketball tournament that come to mind first. However, one that flies under the radar, but rightfully belongs, is March Madness locations.
Typically, 14 different cities/arenas play host to tournament games in a given year. Then the following year, a mostly new crop of locations get the next round of games. This cycle continues for another few years. But all in all, it's a constantly-revolving door of sites.
The NCAA hand-picks these hosts year in, year out. Not unlike the NFL Super Bowl or FIFA World Cup, cities must submit bids to house a crop of games. So that should tell you there's real value in being the home of the March Madness competition.
Bettors need to take notice of March Madness locations, as well. There are some underlying reasons why the host matters when picking between March Madness odds. We'll cover that, plus the 2021 sites, over the course of this guide!
2021 March Madness Locations
In a historic turn of events, the 2020 March Madness event was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak — a first in NCAA history. At the moment, 2021 is scheduled to resume the "Big Dance" and sites have already been picked for the NCAA tourney.
While changes could be on the horizon, especially if the college hoops season gets delayed and/or canceled like football, here's the current schedule for the 2021 March Madness tournament:
The First Four Play-In Round
The NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams from 65 in 2011 and with that introduced the "First Four" round. It pits the four lowest-seeded automatic bids (based on winning their conference championship) against the four lowest-seeded at-large bids (decided by the NCAA selection committee). The four games are always 16-seed vs. 16 and 12-seed vs 12 matchups — two games apiece for both.
This round is the rare exception where the site never changes. Since its inception, Dayton, Ohio has played hosts to every First Four contest inside the University of Dayton Arena. This will once again be the case in 2021 and 2022.
In 2021, the First Four will take place on March 16 and 17. The start date is, per usual, two days after Selection Sunday on March 14.
The First And Second Round
The madness ensues on March 18 when the 2021 opening round begins. That day, plus the following one, there are NCAA Tournament matchups from morning to night — 32 in total. Just don't blink because you might miss something.
The advancing teams get all of one rest day before returning to the same arena later in the weekend for the second-round matchup. This round is slotted to happen on March 20 and 21 for the 2021 competition.
Eight different venues share hosting duties during the always-unforgettable weekend. Here's who is on deck in 2021:
- The Taco Bell Arena — Boise, Idaho
- American Airlines Center — Dallas, Texas
- Little Caesars Arena — Detroit, Michigan
- Dunkin Donuts Center — Providence, Rhode Island
- Rupp Arena — Lexington, Kentucky
- PNC Arena — Raleigh, North Carolina
- SAP Center — San Jose, California
- INTRUST Bank Arena — Wichita, Kansas
Regional Semi-Finals (Sweet Sixteen) & Finals (Elite Eight)
Annually, March Madness is broken up into four regions — East, Midwest, South, and West. Each is seeded with schools one through 16 from the get-go. Those that survive the opening two rounds earn bids to the regional rounds.
This is really where the stakes start getting higher — not only in the chase for a national title, but the arena itself, too. By and large, you'll see host venues for this round that also have a regular NBA resident during the playing season. But for this one weekend in March, NCAA takes the center stage.
This round takes place the following weekend after the opening two. In 2021, the dates scheduled are March 25 through 28. Moreover, these arenas will share the spotlight during the weekend:
- Pepsi Center — Denver, Colorado
- Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Barclays Center — Brooklyn, New York
- FedEx Forum — Memphis, Tennessee
The Final Four
Welp, it doesn't get much bigger than this. As the name implies, this round pits the "final four" teams that all won their respective regions against one another. It's three games to decide the national championship.
Given the grand moment, these games are actually moved out of normal basketball arenas and into giant football stadiums. Suddenly, the capacity crowd size swells from 20,000 or so people to upwards of 60,000 a game. And yes, that affects the crowd noise level immensely.
Unlike the previous rounds, the Final Four hosts are set well in advance. The next six are already slotted on the calendar. It's a prime reason why the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgie — which was to be the site of the canceled 2020 affair — must wait to get back in the rotation as the NCAA can't break any contractual obligations.
Here's where the national title will be decided in the following six years:
- April 3, 2021: Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, Indiana
- April 2, 2022: Mercedes-Benz Superdome — New Orleans, Louisiana
- April 1, 2023: NRG Stadium — Houston, Texas
- April 6, 2024: State Farm Stadium — Phoenix, Arizona
- April 5, 2025: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
- April 2, 2026: Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, Indiana
How March Madness Sites Affect Betting
Through the lens of a bettor, why does the March Madness location even matter? After all, they're all neutral sites anyway, thus no school has an outright advantage, right? Well, not exactly.
Where the NCAA Tournament game is being contested does affect betting in a roundabout way. Here are the prime examples:
Almost Home-Court Advantage
Given there are 14 different hosts during the March Madness tournament, the chances a school ends up playing at home or dangerously close to it isn't all that uncommon. When it does transpire, it gives that team's home fans a chance to eat up the ticket count, travel to the matchup much easier, and create an unofficial home-court advantage during the game.
You'll see home-court advantage come into play usually later in the rounds. The NCAA actually does have a rule that prevents a school from playing in a site where it played more than three regular-season games, though this only applies to the first two weekends (and not the Final Four). Still, a school can end up hooping within an hours drive from their usual home base and this circumvents those NCAA restrictions.
Under these unique scenarios, bookies definitely factor the home element into the betting line — though, this sometimes goes unnoticed by bettors. So yes, take the home-court advantage under consideration like you would a normal game. Is the extra point or two added to the spread worth betting on the proverbial "home" team?
Travel Fatigue Is And Isn't A Thing
By and large, bettors are well aware of the effects of travel on teams and players. In basketball, long road trips become dangerous by the end of it. Similarly, traveling from one coast to another (e.g. an east-coast team playing out west under a three-hour time zone difference) can prove to be hazardous.
With the cross-crossing-around-the-country nature of March Madness locations, some of these same effects might carry over come tournament time. Particularly, the switching time zones variable. There's actual scientific evidence that doing this can disrupt circadian rhythms. So watch out for these cases in particular.
As for fatigue in general, it's definitely prevalent in the NCAA Tournament, but not unique to one team. Every team that's left standing after a four-month-long regular season is already worn down. In the same token, most teams must travel far distances for their round-by-round games and play ultra-competitive games just to advance. Therefore, this shared fatigue cancels each other out when betting games.
Welp, that does it for us. If you want to get betting action on all the March Madness games, then take a gander at the table below. We've included the very best sportsbooks for NCAA odds. You're in good hands at any one of these bookies!
More March Madness Resources
If you can't get enough of March Madness, we have some extra reading for you. Check out these in-depth guides:
- March Madness odds: There's a multitude of ways to bet on the "Big Dance." Here is a breakdown of all the ways to do just that.
- March Madness futures: Futures betting for the NCAA Tournament is available year-round. Here are some tips to win big at the bet type.
- March Madness bracket predictions: Is picking a perfect bracket even possible? Technically, yes, but in reality, it's virtually impossible. Understand why with this article.
- March Madness favorites: Who are the odds-on favorites to win the 2021 March Madness tourney? Here's a look at current odds and factors to consider.
- March Madness tickets: Want a seat at the NCAA tourney? Here's how to witness all the madness in-person.