|Cowboys Stadium is hosting this year's Final Four, but will no longer be the site for regional|
NCAA Tournament games. (gamedayr.com)
The college basketball atmosphere might soon be returning to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, at least leading up to the Final Four.
Football stadium domes — with often unfilled 70,000 seats with some vantage points so bad it makes 7-foot giants look like ants fighting over a piece of bread — had been the go-to home for the tournament from the Sweet 16 to the national championship game. Now both Andy Katz at ESPN and Matt Norlander at CBS Sports have reported the NCAA is cutting back on its dome fetish.
From now on, any rounds not named the Final Four will no longer be played in domes, unless a dome has never hosted a regional. So for example, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis were regional sites last year and will no longer be eligible to host a non-Final Four round again.
So what's the big deal? Well, for one it should help the quality of play during those four rounds. It's been talked about at length throughout the past few years how the vastness of the background in the domes throws of players' depth perception and makes it harder to hit long shots. Not to mention the raised courts that are asking for players to fall off the floor going for a loose ball.
More importantly for the fans, the smaller arenas (20,000+ seats as opposed to 70,000) make for a louder, more intimate environment that mimics what fans see during the regular season at the great arenas around the country and makes for a better experience. Why not try to get an atmosphere that feels more like Assembly Hall or Cameron Indoor Stadium with the stakes and intensity of a single-elimination tournament game? Instead, teams are playing in front of semi-empty domes that automatically takes away from the spectacle. Cowboys Stadium can hold roughly 80,000 people, yet only 40,000 attended the Sweet 16 and 36,000 saw the Elite 8 in the dome this year.
It was a smart move by the NCAA to not think about dollar signs and make a decision that bettered the game. The NCAA makes a killing off TV revenue and if the domes are not selling out for the regional rounds, then lose 15,000 people and raise ticket prices slightly to account for the difference. The product and atmosphere will be better and worth the extra money.
The next step of bringing the Final Four back to the arena like the good old days seems like a long way off, if it ever happens. The difference is the Final Four will bring in 70,000 people, and it is unlikely the NCAA would say no to losing that kind of cash from ticket sales. And to give domes credit, they are better at capacity.
But this is a victory for the little guys, the 20,000-seat arenas who get to provide the intimate, loud and intense atmosphere that makes college basketball a popular sport.
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