The men's U.S. college basketball tournament is under way as the United States is involved in a war with Iraq. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, security has increased at high-profile events such as the basketball tournament and the National Football League's Super Bowl game. Fans at this year's basketball tournament can expect tight security.
The 64-team tournament is under way at several venues across the United States with several high-profile teams, including former champions Arizona, Kansas, and Duke in action.
The basketball is being played against the background of the war in Iraq. The Department of Homeland Security has elevated its terrorist threat level to its second-highest state of alert and security is tight at tournament venues.
But Greg Shaheen, the Managing Director of the Division I Men's tournament, says tournament organizers also had increased security at last year's event, and fans still enjoyed the tournament.
"Those who attended any one of our tournament sites, the championship last year, any of our championships, know that we enhanced security procedures last year," he said. "That is what gives us comfort, that is what gives us peace of mind as we get into this championship season, that we are ready to go with those same practices."
One of the venues for first round action is Boston's Fleet Center, the home court of the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics and the National ice Hockey League's Boston Bruins. Fleet Center spokesman Richard Krezwick say that fans can expect a little inconvenience in order to enjoy a safe competition.
"We make sure we that exceed the requirements. Being at a requirement is not good enough security," he said. "We will use dogs, we will use metal detectors, we will use every aspect of security. Lots of surveillance that goes on in prevention. We have roving teams outside the building, we have roving teams inside the building."
University of Kansas head coach Roy Williams says that his hope is that fans and players will support the U.S. troops in the Middle East.
"I hope that our nation never gets to the point that we have those guys come back and they are treated like the people who came back from Vietnam," he said. "So my message to my team is for us to understand that those people over there have to have our 100 percent support and have to have our encouragement. And that is the way I hope that they will be treated from day one."
There had been talk of postponing or delaying some games, but the NCAA decided against that strategy. Ralph Willard, the Coach of Holy Cross University, says he knows that the troops fighting in Iraq would not want the NCAA tournament delayed or canceled.
"Out of respect you want to say 'Let's not play', but then I was in the service, so I know how important sports are," he said. "You are in a situation where you are away from your family, you are away from the things that are important to you, so sports are a great outlet for you."
The single elimination tournament will continue under increased security until the men's national champion is crowned April 7 at the Super Dome in New Orleans, Louisiana.