Talks of move in early stages

Updated: September 7, 2012, 12:32 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The NCAA and the men's basketball selection committee have discussed the possibility of moving the Final Four out of a dome and into an arena in a major metropolitan city.

The Final Four, booked through 2016, hasn't been played in an arena since 1996.

The chances of that changing remain a longshot, but it was brought up at the selection committee's summer meeting and again last week at the National Association of Basketball Coaches meeting by new NCAA executive vice president for championships Mark Lewis.

It's something we would want to explore. What's the best place to play a basketball game? Is it harder to play in a dome? We've got to do what's right for the game of basketball. I have a sports background but not a basketball guy, so the answer should be driven by what's the best experience for the student-athletes.

-- NCAA executive vice president for championships Mark Lewis

Lewis told ESPN.com on Thursday that when he was hired earlier this year, he took out a United States map and saw that both coasts are largely left off from hosting the Final Four.

"I don't know where this will lead, if anywhere, but the right thing is to sit down and have these conversations and see if we want our championship in more than eight cities or do we like playing exclusively in domes," Lewis said.

"None of the cities where we play our championship is named New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago or Miami," Lewis said. "We don't play on a campus. We play in professional football arenas."

This year, the NCAA is supposed to send out a request for a proposal (RFP) for the 2017 Final Four and beyond.

The next four Final Fours are locked in for domes in Atlanta (2013), Arlington, Texas (14), Indianapolis ('15) and Houston ('16). The only other viable cities to host are New Orleans (site of April's Final Four), St. Louis (2005), Detroit ('09), Phoenix (never has hosted) and Minneapolis (1992, 2001).

Tampa-St. Petersburg hosted the event in 1999, but hasn't been considered since. San Antonio hosted in 1998, 2004 and '08, but Lewis said he was told the Alamodome is now too small.

The last time the Final Four was held in an arena was 1996 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

"The timing is that we're several years out, but historically, we've put out bids for Final Four cities sometime in the fall," Lewis said. "Before I pull off the dust on the RFP papers and just change the dates I want to know: Does the committee want to do this? I'm the new guy. I don't know where this will lead if anywhere but the right thing is to have the conversation to see if we want it (in) more than eight cities. Do we like playing exclusively in dome stadiums when it comes to something as significant as the national championship."

Selection committee chair Mike Bobinski, athletic director at Xavier, said the conversations are at the infancy stage.

"There are a number of questions to be answered before this becomes a potential way to run an event on an occasion," Bobinski said. "I don't ever think we would continue consider going back to a full-time basis (to arenas). We're nowhere near a decision. It's a complicated decision."

Bobinski said the committee must decide if it makes sense to exclude key areas of the country just because they don't have arenas that meet the specs required to host a Final Four.

Lewis said the committee has to ask itself if the Final Four is a true national championship, why are only certain parts of the country, mostly in the middle, allowed to promote and showcase it.

But going from an arena with 70,000-seat capacity to 20,000 would be a huge hit for ticket revenue. Lewis said the NCAA will analyze if there is an offset of cost if it doesn't have to deal with setting up and tearing down the set-up at a dome for a basketball event.

"It's something we would want to explore," Lewis said. "What's the best place to play a basketball game? Is it harder to play in a dome? We've got to do what's right for the game of basketball. I have a sports background but I'm not a basketball guy, so the answer should be driven by what's the best experience for the student-athletes."

Lewis said the NCAA has been behind conference tournaments and regular-season games in putting on an event.

"We have to make sure we put forth the best possible product for them to watch," Lewis said, referring to the fans. "That's what the staff is doing, going from soup to nuts to look at things and to make sure the basketball committee has our thoughts on where do we play our crown jewel -- the national championship."

The NCAA signed a 14-year television deal with CBS/Turner in 2010 for a reported $11 billion.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com