Finding a sentimental, marketable use for the NCAA's would-be discarded Final Four courts is now officially en vogue.
The trend began last summer with Kentucky (of course), which last summer received the 2012 Superdome Final Four floor in a donation from NCAA corporate sponsor Northwestern Mutual, the first of its kind. UK coach John Calipari immediately placed 3,000 square feet of the floor in UK's updated basketball locker rooms, just one more brilliant minor recruiting flourish for a guy who has rewritten the entire book on said. Assuming Northwestern Mutual was happy to keep footing the bill and flipping courts to their national champion counterparts, it was safe to expect other programs to follow in the Wildcats' wake.
Northwestern Mutual followed through again this spring, purchasing and then donating the 2013 Georgia Dome court to the Louisville Cardinals. So, what will U of L do with its memorabilia hardwood? As the Cardinals revealed at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, they already have a few things in mind.
The first is ceremonial. Louisville will cut out the heart of the court -- which features that tidy peach-oriented 2013 Final Four logo, which is only going to get more awesomely kitschy with age -- and hang it in an immense 24 x 28, 6,000-pound frame in the lobby of the KFC Yum! Center. Fans will get a gander every time they enter the building, and that will probably feel very good.
It might not feel quite as good as Phase 2 of the Cardinals plan: Charity auction! After center court is carved and framed, whatever hardwood remains will be chopped up into small pieces and stamped with commemorative logos -- 1,000 of which Rick Pitino will sign. The pieces will then be auctioned off to fans.
This is normally the part where we'd criticize another instance of crass college sports commercialism, but wait, there's more: According to Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein, proceeds from the auction will go to benefit pediatric cancer research. That last bit transforms the entire idea. Louisville probably could have profited from Northwestern Mutual's donation in a real way, and many Cardinals fans would have happily dipped back into their wallets for a real-deal tchotchke to hang in their dens. Instead, that revenue will go to benefit a totally worthy cause. (At the risk of drawing too near a connection, the choice of charity is imbued with even more meaning given the brilliant Final Four performance of forward Luke Hancock in front of his cancer-stricken father, who lost his three-year battle with the disease in June).
In other words: Three cheers for Louisville. If this is going to be a trend -- and thanks to Northwestern Mutual, apparently it is -- then it's hard to imagine a better use for all that leftover wood than its transformation into tangible resources for people trying to cure one of humanity's most pervasive and tragic diseases. Pitino and company set a classy precedent here. Let's hope future champions follow.