NCAA Tournament men’s Final Four will include fan cutouts interspersed with limited-capacity crowd

Fan cutouts have been a sports world staple ever since leagues returned to play during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA Final Four will be no different, even as fans are being allowed into stadiums and arenas in increasing numbers.

The NCAA unveiled a fan cutout plan Thursday, allowing college basketball supporters to be represented during the men's Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Last month, the NCAA announced that a limited number of fans (25% capacity) would be allowed to attend men's and women's college basketball tournaments. That decision was made in conjunction with state and local health authorities.

The Final Four fan cutouts would be interspersed with the limited fan seating available for the games, all of which will be held in Indiana.

The cutouts are available for purchase for $100. Proceeds from the fan cutout program also will support two important causes: the United Way’s Central Indiana COVID-19 Recovery and Rebound effort and Hilinski’s Hope, a national nonprofit promoting awareness and education of student-athlete mental health and wellness.

"As we seek to continue to engage fans during the Men's Final Four, we want to make an impact beyond improving the atmosphere in the venue," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. "Each purchase supports an important cause, whether locally with COVID-19 relief in Central Indiana or nationally by supporting mental health initiatives for student-athletes across the country. It's another opportunity for us to think creatively and provide a meaningful experience during this historic event."

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Fan cutouts populate Bryce Jordan Center as Penn State hosts Minnesota for a Big Ten men's basketball game. (Photo: Matthew OHaren, USA TODAY Sports)

For the television viewer at home, Final Four games should give off a full-capacity crowd aesthetic. At Super Bowl 55, Tampa's Raymond James Stadium appeared full despite a limited-capacity crowd. Cardboard cutouts occupied the majority of seats as no more than 25,000 people — including 7,500 health care workers — were in attendance inside the 67,000-capacity stadium.

The genesis of fan cutouts was back in May when the German Bundesliga and Korean Baseball Organization became the world's first major sports leagues to return to action. Empty seats were populated with fan cutouts. On May 23, players for German soccer club Borussia Mönchengladbach were greeted with around 13,000 fan cutouts for their first home game since the league shut down in March due to COVID-19. 

In late summer as sports leagues across the U.S. returned to action, fan cutouts and virtual fans were omnipresent. Both remain prominent fixtures at sports events even as fans are slowly returning in limited numbers to arenas and stadiums.

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