Monday, March 27, 2017

Downsize the Final Four, please

The NCAA Tournament Final Four was played in a dome for the first time in 1971 at the Houston Astrodome. And, in 1982 the event returned to a dome (the New Orleans Superdome) and has been in a dome ever since 1997.

Jason Gay, in today's Wall Street Journal, urged the NCAA to go back to an arena setting for these final three games versus dome venues. His rationale is that basketball is meant to be played in an arena - an intimate setting designed for the game versus a stadium designed for Monster Truck pulls.

While I get Gay's point, the economics and logistics of trying to configure an arena for fans, media, sponsors, coaches (the coaches association convention takes place during Final Four weekend) and the general public is impossible given the demand for tickets. You're not going to put that genie back into the bottle. What needs to change isn't the dome locations but rather the configuration of how the dome is used for the Final Four.

The 2009 Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit was the first where the floor was placed in the middle of the stadium, thus providing additional seating. In the process, the number of quality seats declined dramatically and the number of restricted view seats increased even more dramatically.

The solution is to return to the prior dome configuration where the court was situated at one end of the stadium floor and temporary bleachers supplemented the natural arena seating on the other three sides of the playing surface. This approach, which was in place from 1997-2008, required a minimum of 40,000 seats, based upon the NCAA's venue selection criteria at the time. Last year's attendance of 73,340 for the national championship game in NRG Stadium, Houston, means that the NCAA would lose about 40% or so of the seats that it could sell if returning to that configuration.

The downside of this downsizing is that there is obvious demand for tickets and the experience of being "in the building." The upside is that the fan and student-athlete (you see what I did there) experience would more than make up for the lost revenue - those who do have tickets would be more likely to have good sight lines; the players on the floor would have a less cavernous space in which to suddenly adjust with their shots.

It's a conundrum that is a good one to have if you're the NCAA. Having experienced both the smaller set-up in a dome and the larger configuration, there is no comparison as to my preference - my "good" seats as defined by the NCAA in 2012 in New Orleans were horrid in comparison to my same section in 2008 in San Antonio. And, the spectacle would still be a spectacle on TV.

Let's downsize, shall we?

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