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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
NCAA's dome decision a welcome one

By Eamonn Brennan

Every year, the Final Four takes place in a massive dome. Some are bigger and more sterile than others -- Lucas Oil Stadium is a different experience than the Superdome, in ways both good and bad; Cowboys Stadium, the site of the 2014 Final Four, is downright insane -- but all of them are big, and all of them are sterile, and every year fans and media members gripe about the overfed settings, pining for the days when college basketball was played in basketball gyms. We also gripe about sightlines worsening the offense on display, even if any evidence to that effect is anecdotal and unconvincing. We grasp at straws.

The sightlines thing might be dumb, but the environment isn't: There's just something different about the domes. They feel counterintuitive to the intimacy and intensity that makes the college game great. But by the time the Final Four games get going, the environment picks up, and its largesse makes it electric in a different way. It's still the Final Four, after all.

That is not the case at regional events, where attendance is a far different animal. For years, the NCAA has used domes in its regional events, not only because they were handy, but because they were good settings for trial runs in advance of future Final Four settings. That's why Jerryworld, which is less a gym than a theme park where games are occasionally played, hosted a regional this spring. It wasn't because Florida Gulf-Coast needed the standing room.

This morning, ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported that the NCAA is done with the domes -- at least where regionals are concerned:
The NCAA has made one decision on domes -- it is done with them in regional finals. Mark Lewis, the NCAA's vice president in charge of championships, said using domes for regionals was a trial run for future Final Fours. But the upcoming Final Four sites have already had the dry run, so the NCAA doesn't need to do this anymore. Lewis said regional finals should be in arenas, and that will be the plan going forward. The next three Final Fours are in Arlington, Texas, in 2014; Indianapolis in 2015; and Houston in 2016.

Here's the thing: Rail as we might against the bloat of college athletics, and the impulse to cram 70,000 overcharged ticketholders into a football stadium, the Final Fours are going to be in domes for ... well, I would say the foreseeable future, but really the answer is more like "forever." The NCAA makes almost all of its money from the NCAA tournament. Most of that money comes from the TV contract with CBS and Turner, sure, but there is plenty of cash in a sold-out 70,000 seat stadium, and when your yearly budget comes down to a handful of weeks in March, you're going to try to ring every last dollar out of those few opportunities. Understandably so.

That is not the case for regional events. If the NCAA could convince 70,000 people to sell out a regional stadium, then it might be a different story, but as is the stadiums were half-full, logistical compromises. They were early proving grounds. More tournament basketball in actual basketball gyms is a no-brainer.