DETROIT (AP) — The road to the Final Four ends in the Motor City, where a new tradition will begin.
The NCAA is putting the basketball court in the middle of a football field.
Even if the defending national champion’s coach gets a chance to be on the sideline in Detroit again, he won’t like the look and feel of the setup. Previous tournaments in football stadiums have had the floor in one end of the field.
“I don’t think it’s a good basketball venue,” Kansas coach Bill Self in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s no comparison to San Antonio in terms of the crowd being involved.
“Ford Field is nice, it’s just not a good basketball venue.”
The NCAA, the person supervising the transformation of the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, a driving force behind the design of the stadium and local officials respectfully disagree.
“If you’re coaching, playing or watching a game here for the first time, the vastness might seem awkward because it’s not something anybody is used to,” Detroit Local Organizing Committee executive director Bill Ryan told the AP on Wednesday. “As time goes on and this becomes the norm, I think people will like it.”
If they don’t, it might not matter anyway.
“What we’re doing at this Final Four is what we’re going to be doing in the foreseeable future,” said L.J. Wright, NCAA director of the Division I men’s basketball championship. “Among the things the committee likes about the new setup is, we’re going to have 400-plus students from each of the four schools on the floor behind the baskets.
“Those students can come to both sessions — all three games — for $20 total. Last year in San Antonio, if you bought a seat in the same place it cost $220.”
The NCAA can afford to create the cost-effective seats because it plans to have nearly 30,000 more fans per day than attended last year’s Final Four at the Alamodome.
About 72,000 spectators are expected to be at Ford Field on both April 4 for the semifinals and April 6 for the championship game.
The current attendance record for a championship matchup is 64,959, set in 1987 when Keith Smart’s jumper lifted Indiana to a title over Syracuse at the Superdome in New Orleans.
When the NCAA’s inaugural tournament ended in 1939, Oregon beat Ohio State at Patten Gymnasium in Evanston, Ill, for the title in front of 5,500 fans. It wasn’t until 1971 that more than 20,000 fans watched a final game.
College basketball’s signature event hasn’t been held in a traditional basketball arena since 1996 in East Rutherford, N.J., and it likely won’t return to a cozy venue again.
State-of-the art football stadiums in Indianapolis and Houston will host the next two Final Fours and again in 2015 and 2016.
In those football-first facilities — and Ford Field — the hardwood will be at the 50 instead of toward an end zone with curtains cutting off some sections as was done in previous years.
When Kansas beat Davidson last year on a court 29 inches off the ground, a regional attendance record of 57,563 was set.
But Self wasn’t a fan.
“There was nothing about it that I cared for,” Self said two months ago after playing at Michigan State. “It was really bland when we were there and I really disliked the raised court.
“I don’t like it, but I would give anything to have a chance to experience it again. It will be totally different for the Final Four.”
The NCAA is banking on that.
In addition to the buzz generated by a Final Four and 75,000 fans, an eight-sided videoboard with 65-foot-wide monitors will bring the action closer to those in the upper deck and the lucky ones in the lower level should have improved sight lines.
A newly created seating system will flow from away from the court and into the lower level of the stadium as it did last year, but the pitch has been increased by as much as 5 inches.
“We learned a lot from the regional, hearing comments and complaints about sight lines,” said Ford Field’s senior director of facility management Bob Gardner, who is helping to oversee the assembly of the seating system this week. “Last year, the system went over the field wall and into the 12 rows of existing seating in the seating bowl and we had to remove 2,900 seats.
“Now, its going up 23 rows and we’re removing almost 5,000 seats so that nobody will have to see the back of anybody’s head.”