Ford Field becoming fan-friendly for Final Four

December, 4, 2008
DETROIT -- The NCAA is banking on the Final Four being one of the most fan-friendly environments in sports.

Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball and business strategies, was at Ford Field this week prepping for the Final Four in April. And he couldn't be more pleased.

The NCAA put the floor in the center of the field (as it was for the regional last March) and surrounded it with stands.

For the first time ever, Shaheen said, there will be two student sections, one in each end zone, with seating for 2,200 students in each section. The four schools will each hold ticket lotteries to determine the students who will attend for $10 a ticket. But there won't even be tickets since there will be a state-of-the-art pass system.

Students will be seated with their respective bands to give the Final Four as much of a campus feel as it can in what has been, at times, a bland atmosphere in the spacious domes.

Shaheen said the NCAA is leasing an eight-sided video board that it will use at the Final Four (there isn't one at Ford Field now). The video board will hang from the roof at center court with the NCAA able to control all eight sides individually.

For the first time, said the NCAA's basketball czar, there will be adequate disabled seating within clear sight of the court. The NCAA is also reaching out to local youth groups for the first time to get them into the building and to expose the event to people throughout the Detroit-metro area.

"We see how the Final Four can be really important here," Shaheen said. "It can help the economy in Detroit and in the state."

The NCAA is also savvy to drawing upon local interest and will play up the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Michigan State national champions, led by Hall of Famer and former Spartan Magic Johnson.

• Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said that not knowing if center Goran Suton could play in recent weeks has been a "nightmare." He said Suton's scope surgery on Thursday offers clarity for him and Suton. Now the senior will know exactly what is happening with his left knee. On Tuesday, Izzo said, he thought Suton would be able to play Wednesday against top-ranked North Carolina (Suton had missed the previous three games). But after two runs through layup lines, Suton knew he couldn't go. The Spartans lost big-time, 98-63.

• Izzo said his best hope is for freshman Delvon Roe to be at 80-85 percent by the time Big Ten play starts and then ride that out the rest of the season. Roe had microfracture surgery last December, and the normal recovery for that type of surgery is a year.

• Izzo said that even if the Spartans had been at full strength against UNC, they still may have lost by 20, but they certainly would have given a better effort.

• Tulsa is sliding a bit, falling to 4-3 after a loss to Ohio on Wednesday.

• UMass is off to a woeful start, losing at Toledo in the final second, 57-56, dropping the Minutemen to 1-5. They also lost a heartbreaker in their home opener (75-74 to Jacksonville State).

• Maryland got a much-needed win over Michigan, 75-70. The Terps now have to root hard for the Michigan schools to do well and be NCAA teams for those two wins to matter in March. The Terps beat Michigan State last week, 80-62.

• Hard to believe that Tyler Smith's triple-double (12 points, 10 boards, 10 assists) against UNC-Asheville was the first ever for a Tennessee player.

• Siena stopped the bleeding of going 0-3 in Disney by beating Loyola, Md., in what matters most for the Saints now -- winning the MAAC.

• The most impressive wins of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, outside of Duke and North Carolina taking it to Purdue and Michigan State in the Midwest, were Penn State winning at Georgia Tech and Northwestern beating Florida State. Two teams predicted for the bottom of the Big Ten took out two teams that believe they'll be in the NCAAs.

• Illinois-Chicago beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. That's two home losses for the Commodores (Illinois was the other). That is quite rare.

• Utah hasn't lost since the opener to Southwest Baptist. The Utes beat Oregon on Wednesday.

• Bob Huggins squelched a big night for his good friend Andy Kennedy when West Virginia beat Ole Miss in Oxford on a pair of Alex Ruoff free throws with 17.7 seconds left.

• BYU's Lee Cummard is making a strong case so far for MWC Player of the Year. He put up 30 at Weber State in the Cougars' 30-point win and is averaging 20.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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