TBT to be played in Columbus, air live on ESPN

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Next month, The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all affair for a seven-figure sum, will become the first live, televised basketball competition in America since the coronavirus pandemic sidelined sporting events around the world in March.

Featuring former college stars and overseas standouts, the TBT will commence at Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, for a 24-team tournament in Columbus, Ohio, from July 4-14, event officials announced on Thursday.

Now in its seventh year, the TBT prize will be $1 million — it was $2 million last year — and it will air on ESPN, which recently agreed to a three-year extension to televise the event, and its family of networks. Carmen’s Crew, a group of former Ohio State players, will defend its 2019 title after defeating the Golden Eagles Alumni, a group of former Marquette standouts, in last year’s championship game.

The last time basketball aired live on American TV, the Big East tournament’s opening round had started before the event was cancelled.

“Being the first basketball event to play in the U.S. since March is a monumental task that is only possible with great partners,” said TBT founder and CEO Jon Mugar in a release. “We can’t thank the State of Ohio, Columbus Sports Commission or The Ohio State University enough for their support, not to mention our longstanding partners ESPN, Puma and Zelle. Everyone is unified in wanting to see basketball on TV again, and our players can’t wait to compete.”

Last month, the TBT announced that it had created a comprehensive health and safety plan, anchored by extensive Covid-19 testing and precautions that include eliminating entire teams if one player tests positive, and shopped the plan to potential hosts around the country.

Mugar told ESPN last month that the plan is to have no more than 50 people in the gym at one time, although more than 400 people will participate in the “quarantined” event. Players must self-quarantine and get tested before their arrival. They’ll be tested on site and then they’ll be tested again once they enter the event’s quarantined facilities. If a player tests positive at any point, his entire team will be removed from the competition, according to event officials.

Teams will not interact before games and each team will bring all of its belongings from the hotel to the gym for each competition because once they lose, they’ll immediately leave the arena and go home.

Ohio opened key venues on Wednesday, including museums and movie theaters, as part of the state’s plan to move forward in the pandemic. Per the New York Times, the number of new cases in the state are decreasing.

The TBT has gained the approval of the state’s top officials.

“Hosting TBT in Columbus is another step forward in our state’s efforts to responsibly restart Ohio,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, per the TBT’s release. “We’re looking forward to having live sports back in a safe way we all can enjoy.”

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