NCAA Addresses Its Dome Problem

April 7th, 2015 | by Jeff Troxclair
NCAA Addresses Its Dome Problem
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As the curtain falls on another fantastic college basketball season, my attention is already shifting toward the NCAA’s recent announcement that it will soon correct one of the biggest issues facing its premier annual event. I speak not of inconsistent officiating, or the uptick in fouls-masquerading-as-physical-play that increasingly differentiate the college game from its professional counterpart, though it sounds as if Bo Ryan wouldn’t mind chatting at length about either of those issues right about now. I’m talking about the fact that the future regional sites announced by the NCAA tell us we’ve watched our last Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in buildings designed for football for at least the next four years. The announcement gives all NCAA tournament fans hope that the curtain (and I’m now talking about the unsightly literal ones hanging behind the temporary bleachers in all the domed stadiums, and no longer in the metaphorical sense) may be falling in domed football stadiums for the final time, or at least until the Final Four.

I personally think the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is about the most wonderful sporting event on the face of the planet. It is a fitting coda to the four months of sustained excitement that precedes it. I find the current state of the sport neither a “joke,” to lift a recent quote from a guy who’s won his fair share of basketball games, nor am I persuaded by the occasional voice calling for a later start to the season so as to avoid the current monolith of the sporting world’s playoff push. So it’s admittedly a bit of tilting at windmills to pick this particular fight, though it’s something I couldn’t help be reminded of while switching the channels this past weekend.

Enjoy The View

Anyone who’s ever had the “pleasure” of viewing a college basketball game from the upper regions of a building built for football likely doesn’t need to be reminded of the less-than-stellar view afforded by the majority of the seats. Having seen NCAA Tournament games in consecutive years in both the Verizon Center and The Georgia Dome (admittedly, from the cheap seats), the experiences were not remotely comparable. And the view from TV-land is often times not much of an improvement: awkward sightlines lead to sub-optimal camera shots, all with the added bonus of never really getting the shared hospital room curtain that hangs in the background and separates the unused two-thirds of the building out of focus.

If this were purely an aesthetic preference, there wouldn’t be much room for complaint. But objective measures suggest that there is a negative effect on play in these domed stadiums, as well. Everyone who has watched the NCAA Tournament over the past decade has heard about the effect domed football stadiums have on shooters’ depth perception. And the numbers from this year’s Houston Regional, the only of the four regionals this season played in a building dedicated to football, certainly lends support to this assertion. All four teams assigned to the Houston Regional – Duke, Gonzaga, Utah, and UCLA – shot under 40 percent from the field.

In all the NCAA Tournament games played in the history of NRG (formerly Reliant) Stadium, no team has ever – ever! – shot above 50 percent from the field. Individual performances from star players like Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, UCLA’s Norman Powell, and Utah’s Delon Wright fell well short of their season-long field-goal percentage averages. Every college basketball fan that neither attended UConn nor had them in their office pool remembers the  horrific eighteen-point-eight percent shooting performance the Butler Bulldogs put on display during the 2011 National Championship Game (also held in Houston’s former Reliant Stadium).

Getting Out From Under The Dome

Is this correlation without causation? Perhaps, though, the NCAA must lend it some credence in announcing its decisions to no longer play tournament games outside of the Final Four at these stadiums. Speaking before the start of this season’s tournament, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt said, “It’s also worth noting that the dozen regional sites chosen for this bid cycle do not include any domed venues, which emphasizes our commitment to not necessarily using future Final Four venues as regional sites.”  Looking at the dwindling gate receipts, the public seems to also be voting with its feet. This year’s Regional in Houston averaged approximately 21,000 fans, as opposed to the 45,000 plus that crowded in during the 2011 Final Four (admittedly more of an “event,” but that’s a sizable disparity).

In any event, it’s the right decision, and another feather in the cap of the NCAA.  Now all it needs to do is make certain that next year’s Final Four site mitigates any environmental issues that put players at a disadvantage during the most important games of their careers. That means they’ve got 364 days to figure out how to fix the site of the 2016 Final Four…. Houston.

At the very least, use the time to get some better curtains.

 

Feature image courtesy of S. Lecka/Getty Image

 

 

 

 

About Jeff Troxclair
Jeff Troxclair is an executive, lawyer, and life-long college sports fan. He is a graduate of both NC State University and the University of Notre Dame, and is a hopelessly optimistic Wolfpack and Irish fan. Jeff is originally from New Orleans, LA, but has lived for extended periods of time in both Raleigh, NC, and Chicago, IL. He currently resides in Oakland, CA, with his wife and daughter. Having seen the New Orleans Saints actually win a Super Bowl, he is now convinced that we live in a world where no sports-related achievement is impossible.

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