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Auriemma, Mulkey relies on NCAA protocols for San Antonio

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9:05 ET

Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began reporting on women’s basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The recent mask mandate waiver in Texas did not change 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 require masking and social distancing for the tournament’s official tour groups, guests and fans.

Coaches like UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Baylors Kim Mulkey said they were confident about NCAA guidelines.

“I don’t know we’re going to be interacting with anyone who isn’t part of the NCAA basketball community,” Auriemma said Thursday. “So I would probably be a lot more concerned if we had to interact with the public, but we don’t. And I’m sure that every precaution is taken to ensure that our athletes and coaches, as well as staff and administrators, are safe.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he would lift the mask mandate and allow companies to open “100 percent” starting March 10th. The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that not all four of Abbott’s medical advisors were involved in the decision.

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The 64-man field will be announced on Friday, March 15 (ESPN / ESPN app, 7 p.m. ET). The first round will take place March 21-22 with games in San Antonio, San Marcos and Austin. In the second round from March 23rd to 24th, games will take place at three locations in San Antonio. From Sweet 16 onwards, all games will take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio from March 27th. The women’s final will take place from April 2-4.

The 16-team men’s NIT will also be held in Texas at arenas in Frisco and Denton, part of the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The NCAA issued a statement following Abbott’s announcement: “Protecting the health and safety of participants and fans during the NCAA Championships remains a priority for the NCAA. 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 been monitoring ongoing COVID-19 developments in all states since the pandemic broke out. We will continue to work closely with local medical authorities, the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group and CDC guidelines to ensure that determine appropriate health and safety protocols for our events. “

Just in time for the best college female basketball players traveling there for the NCAA tournament. A single geographic region became much less attractive. #StayMasked https://t.co/eGXkUFQhjS

– Rebecca Lobo (@RebeccaLobo) March 2, 2021

The NCAA announced last month that it would allow 16 fans in the women’s tournament with a capacity of 17% for the Alamodome starting with the Sweet. The first rounds are limited to teams and guests, with each member of the official 34-person team travel group being allowed up to six tickets for guests.

Mulkey, whose university is in Waco, Texas, said that while she understood the motivation behind Abbott’s decision to vacate the mandate, she also understood that some people were uncomfortable with it.

“Removing the government mandate doesn’t necessarily mean removing the masks,” Mulkey said. “Companies in Texas may still need masks, and many have announced plans to do so.”

Mulkey said based on the schools, conferences and NCAA procedures and protocols already in place, she was not concerned that the NCAA tournament could be disrupted due to the mandate waiver.

“Baylor, at this point you still need student and staff masks. So I’ll respect that decision and wear my mask to work,” she said. “The NCAA requires us to wear a mask in San Antonio, and I respect that decision. We will follow Baylor University and NCAA guidelines.”

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Melinda Martin