Now that the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee has said yes — and no — to various tournament hosts wannabes, we can ponder the future, accompanied by the comments of committee chair Scott Barnes.
For instance, now we know . . .
♦ From 2016-18, some part of the tournament will be played in 26 different states.
“One of the priorities is this is indeed a national championship tournament,” Barnes said about the selection process.
“As that is a priority, you have to make sure you spread your footprint around the country and truly make it a national tournament.”
Which is why the West Coast is back in the Final Four business, with the Phoenix area landing the event in 2017. Most of today’s freshmen weren’t born yet the last time the Final Four was held west of the Central time zone, in Seattle in 1995. That’s so long ago, the Big Ten only had 11 schools.
— Scott Barnes
♦ We’ll see team caps and T-shirts once more flooding the River Walk.
Few Final Four sites have been more popular than San Antonio, with its teeming River Walk area an easy distance from hotels and the arena. There was truly grieving when the Alamodome began showing its age so much that the city dropped out of the Final Four rotation. But the place is being renovated, and San Antonio is back in 2018. Tex-Mex for everyone!
Barnes: “One of the things we talk about a lot is, to make it a special experience, the more events that take place in a common area, the more excitement the event produces overall.”
And with the possible exception of Indianapolis, no recent site is better at that than San Antonio.
♦ There are some things old and some things new in the preliminary round sites announced for 2016-18.
The First Four remains in Dayton, as well it should, given how that city has supported it. The 2017 Midwest Regional in Kansas City will be the 30th time the city has hosted part of the NCAA Tournament.
But then, when Omaha hosts the Midwest Regional in 2018, it’ll be the first Sweet 16 in the history of the state of Nebraska. The 2017 East Regional will be only the second tournament appearance in Madison Square Garden since 1961. The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn gets its first NCAA Tournament run with the first and second rounds in 2016. The first and second rounds in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in 2017 will be the first time since 1982 that a tournament session in that city was not held in a dome.
♦ If recent history means anything, Duke just became the prohibitive favorite in 2019.
Minneapolis will be Final Four host. The last two Final Fours in the city, in 1992 and 2001, were Blue Devil coronations. And to think, in 2019, Mike Krzyzewski will only be 72 years old.
This Minneapolis Final Four will be in a new facility. So will the Atlanta Final Four in 2020. The committee loves new buildings the way ants love a picnic basket. Especially if they are suitably spectacular to add to the grandeur of the proceedings.
“The student-athlete experience is a critical component, and so is the fan experience,” Barnes said. “Those things rise right to the top.”
♦ The Final Four is returning to Indianapolis in the spring of 2021, like the swallows return to Capistrano.
This season will be Final Four No. 7 for the city, so 2021 will be No. 8. All in 42 years. One factor is the NCAA home office sits right down the street, so Final Fours have always been an integral part of the relationship. Another is the city has shown it knows how to stage a Final Four, which points out a dilemma the committee often faces.
Go with proven hosts from the past or eager new faces?
“There’s a comfort level there,” Barnes said. “You weigh that against making sure that we’re doing what we’re suggesting in making this a national tournament.”
♦ St. Louis, New Orleans and North Texas were the odd bids out for the Final Four.
But the NCAA wants them checking back for 2022.
“There just aren’t enough cities in America that are equipped to host a Final Four,” Barnes said. “So it’s vitally important that we keep those that didn’t make the cut this time interested. The eight cities that made the final presentations all were excellent, and, in my mind, if they aren’t hosting this time, will be hosting at some point.”
♦ Forget the Final Four ever going back to a conventional basketball arena.
Won’t happen. “It’s just gotten too big,” Barnes said. But note that not one regional in the 2016-18 period was assigned to a dome.
♦ Maybe the Olympics are having trouble getting cities to bid. The NCAA is not.
You need a big arena, lots of hotels. It’s nice to have all the major focal points of the event close to one another, but that’s not mandatory, or else the Final Four would not have been in the Dallas/North Texas area last year or Houston next year.
Barnes said the committee will look for any infrastructure upgrades such as roads or the airport. And it’s best not to be asking for a Final Four to be held two months after hosting some other mega-attraction.
“We do think a little about major event fatigue, and what events they’ve had in the last little while that might conflict,” Barnes said. “Maybe the facility is clear and ready to go, but having a significant major event within a few months or even the same year could put stress on the system.”
But still, the suitors keep coming, for a party that only keeps getting bigger.
Barnes: “There aren’t an endless supply of folks that can host, given the parameters, but the appetite is as strong as it’s ever been.
“It’s evolving. For us, the stewards of the game, it’s really important that we continue to improve areas of the game that are important to college basketball, and the Final Four obviously being the biggest event do that.
“The habits of the fans, the needs and interests of the student-athletes, it’s an ever-evolving process. I think we continue to do a better job of being sensitive to those needs. I know we’re spending a lot of time making sure we hit that at a very, very high level.”