COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus police were ready for mischief and madness in the streets Friday when the NCAA basketball tournament tipped off at Nationwide Arena.
“As soon as we got done with the Arnold, we’re head over heels in work trying to get ready for the event coming up,” said Sgt. Matt Weekley, who works with the team that plans security for special events. “You’re looking at staffing levels. You’re looking at the number of people coming in. You’re looking at potential threats that come with an event of that nature,” he explained.
City plow trucks and yellow barricades line every side of Nationwide Arena. The barriers are there not only to protect fans walking to and from the games, but also to keep the street clear for anyone using the DORA. The DORA, or Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, is where adults can drink alcohol outside the stadium for up to three hours before the games.
But the frigid temperatures on St. Patrick’s Day kept most folks inside.
“With the weather, it’s kind of a game changer for us, so what we originally had, we’ll probably be taking some officers off the street a little earlier than we normally would,” Weekley said.
Visitors from across the country came to Columbus to watch the games, even if their home team didn’t make the tournament. Others faced devastating blows to their brackets as top-seeded Purdue fell to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickenson.
Gregg Nigl, the man with the longest perfect bracket ever, picked Purdue this year in one of his brackets, with Houston and Miami winning in two others. The last time Columbus hosted March Madness in 2019, Nigl made history by picking the first 49 games correctly, nailing every game in the first two rounds of the tournament.
This year, though, he’s just enjoying the games with his friends at Keystone Pub in Lewis Center.
“I think college basketball is a great environment to watch it in. It’s also fun to watch at home, but this is even better,” Nigl said.
Nigl loves that Columbus still pushes to host big events like the NCAA Tournament.
“When you get Big Ten schools coming into town and it’s March Madness, you can’t get any better than that. It’s the best sports there is,” Nigl said.
The games continue Saturday with the Women’s NCAA Tournament at the Schottenstein Center, where No. 3 seed Ohio State will play against James Madison at 1:30 p.m. home game followed by UNC vs. St. John’s at 4 p.m. On Sunday, the Men’s Tournament continues at Nationwide Arena.