Experts: The Transformation of Final Four Stadiums

By Aaron Gordon of 15min2exit.com

The Final Four has always struck me as an odd event. It is the only time where a sport completely transforms its game day environment for its biggest event. College basketball is largely played in intimate and intense environments in front it’s most passionate fans. But, when it comes time for the Final Four, the game moves to a football stadium and the size of the crowd is quadrupled.

The view from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the home of the Indianapolis Colts and the 2010 Final Four. (Property of Crazie-Talk)

As far as I’m concerned, there are two considerations in the transformation of the Final Four from a basketball arena to a football stadium: the quality of the stadium, and the location of the court. We can see two distinct stages in the NCAA’s quest to make the Final Four a premier event in American sports.

The first stage was the move from basketball arenas to larger stadiums. This move began in 1997 with the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. By my estimation, the NCAA didn’t really understand what type of venues needed to be used. They experimented with all types of larger venues: decent stadiums (RCA Dome in 1997 and 2000, Alamodome in 1998 and 2004, Georgia Dome in 2002, and Super Dome in 2003), less than decent stadiums (Edward Jones Dome in 2005) and atrocities (Tropicana Field in 1999 and the Metrodome in 2001). This stage of experimentation was highlighted by the Tropicana Field Final Four of 1999. Tropicana Field was one of the worst stadiums in baseball the day it opened, and has only cemented its status thereafter. How it was awarded the Final Four is beyond me. (Ed. note: Maybe that’s why Duke lost to UConn in 1999…aha!)

At some point, likely soon after the Tropicana Field fiasco, the NCAA decided to start awarding Final Fours to actually good stadiums. The decent stadiums held their ground through the mid 2000’s (RCA Dome, Georgia Dome and Alamodome in 2006-2008), and then Ford Field was given the event in 2009. This was a groundbreaking year for the Final Four for two reasons. First, a premier facility was given the event (it was the first stadium in the large venue era of the Final Four that was state-of-the-art). Second, and more importantly, this was the first year the court was placed in the middle of the arena

Prior to Ford Field, the court had been placed towards one endzone, and only half of the large venue was open to seating. Of course, this still offered twice the capacity of a basketball arena. The Georgia Dome and Alamodome saw attendances of 51,458 and 43,257 in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The next year, when Ford Field placed the court on the 50 yard line, the attendance increased to 72,922 because they opened the entire stadium to fans.

One might think this worked out much worse for all 73,000 in attendance, but this was not the case.Under the previous endzone format, fans sitting in the temporary seats had the experience of watchingthe back of the person’s head in front of them. By putting the court in the center, more of the seatingaround the court could be specifically designed for the basketball game, and the pitch of the seats couldbe altered.

This 50 yard line format has been used in every subsequent Final Four, including this year’s in Reliant Stadium. The transformation is complete for the NCAA. They have successfully brought the biggest event they have in front of as many people as possible. There’s just one problem: everything that makes basketball great is nullified when placed on the 50 yard line of a football stadium. The Crazies should know this best. Cameron Indoor is a tiny, tiny venue by today’s standards, and yet it is often lauded as one of the best venues in college sports. This is no coincidence. Basketball is a game designed for anintimate environment. The extreme athleticism of the players is best appreciated when fans are actually close enough to marvel at them. The further away you are, the slower they look and the less impressive it all seems.

 

Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

The friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Friendly to Duke, that is. (Photo courtesy of BluePlanetShots.com)

Likewise, Cameron Indoor is one of the best venues because every single fan is into the game, screaming like asylum patients and shaking like them, too. 8,000 fans in a tiny gym are exponentially more intimidating and chill-inducing than 70,000 screaming fans in a football stadium. It is depersonalizing and estranged. You’re spectators, not participants.

Of course, that is even assuming all 70,000 attendees are screaming fans, which of course they are not. A majority of the fans at the Final Four these days are indifferent. They are exactly who the NCAA is marketing to now: casual spectators coming to an event, not passionate fans who would attend regardless of the cost.

But, as Cormac McCarthy wrote in No Country For Old Men, this is the dismal tide. The NCAA wants basketball in on the riches the Super Bowl or the BCS Championship offers, and they see the nature of the game as irrelevant in their quest for further prosperity. You know, because the NCAA doesn’t make enough money already. And it’s not just money from the extra seats; they can charge more for advertising since more eyes will see it, and they can ask more for TV deals.

I suppose this is just the state of modern sports. Personally, I think it affects college basketball the most, since it is the sport most ill-suited for profit-seeking maximization. It is best enjoyed on a small, intimate scale. It has the smallest playing surface, the densest concentration of athletes, and the most subtle movements have the biggest impact. It is a beautiful game to watch, but not from 500 feet away.

Aaron Gordon, a senior at the University of Maryland, is the founder of 15min2exit.com, a blog about the stadium experience for fans of all sports. Check the site out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks to Aaron for this excellent article in the wake of this year’s Final Four. And for being the most balanced University of Maryland basketball fan of all time.

If you like this kind of material, check Crazie-Talk frequently. There are so many talented college basketball writers (many that follow our Twitter) and we’re excited to start publishing a greater variety of articles. If you have a story idea, pitch it to us: crazietalk@gmail.com. Thanks!

Deviled Eggs 4/4/11

The Blue Devil is cooking up Rivers-related tape headbands for next year. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

1. 2011 commitments play in McDonald’s game, talk smack with UNC recruits

Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee suited up in those classic golden arched jerseys and put up some solid numbers. Cook and Rivers each had 14 points and MP3 finished with 5 points and 7 boards. Our real question, however, is what is with Khem Birch’s long sleeve t-shirt?

2. Jalen Rose follows up “Uncle Tom” comments with another controversy

Former Michigan and NBA star Jalen Rose just can’t stay out of the news. This time it’s a DUI! And now he has been pulled off the air by his employer, ESPN. Wow, and to think I once owned his Pacers jersey and wore it with pride…

3. Duke’s class of 2015 Crazies are ready for the Gothic Wonderland!

We can’t wait to be joined in Cameron by some of the over 3,000 new members* of the undergraduate Duke community. If you are one of the lucky few, congratulations. It’s getting harder and harder to get into this school. Over 29,000 applied for the spots.

(*Ed. note: Only about 1,700 students end up matriculating to Duke every year. Didn’t really think that one through…)

4. Laettner wants to coach

Christian Laettner, perhaps Duke’s most decorated player, wants back in the college game, this time as a coach. Would you take a chance of #32, who has little coaching experience? I would if he could teach me his swagger.

5. Al Featherston on the next year in Duke hoops

The always on point Al Featherston discusses what we can expect from our Blue Devils next year based on what little information we have now.

6. Brand, Collins and the 76ers are back in the playoffs

Congratulations to Elton Brand, who came back from a rough injury to help the 76ers reach the playoffs in the hyper-competitive Eastern Conference. Coach Doug Collins–father of Duke assistant Chris–has pieced together an overachieving team in his first year at the helm of the formerly great Philly phranchise. Good luck!

Check Crazie-Talk again soon for more exciting content from The Offseason. For now, follow us on Twitter and Facebook for frequent updates!

Enjoy All-American Nolan Smith’s “takeover mode,” another great video from DukeBluePlanet. Apologies to Nolan for not picking up the Naismith Award (it went, predictably, to Jimmer). You’re always number 1 in our hearts. And minds, since you’re a better player than Jimmer. #fact


 

C-T Experts: Should Duke Retire Kyle and Nolan's Jerseys?

 

Kyle and Nolan--Blueplanetshots.com

Kyle and Nolan hoisted a lot of trophies together at Duke. Should Duke hoist their jerseys to the rafters? (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Should Duke retire Nolan and Kyle’s jerseys?

by Brandon Godwin

It’s a simple question, but the answer is very complex.

Current Conversation on the Web

On a straw poll of 100 Duke fans, no doubt that at least 90% would answer in the affirmative –Retire their jerseys! But we often over-value the present to the devaluation of the past.

Duke fan and media forums have picked up the topic as well, as have a number of local, regional, and even some national media sources.
After spending multiple hours over the last couple months reading through forums and Web articles, here’s what I’ve discovered. Most people are reasoning whether Nolan and Kyle’s jerseys should/shouldn’t be retired based on the following factors:

1. Career Stats & Rank

2. Comparison to other Duke jersey retirees

3. Rabid fan emotion

A Different Measuring Stick

One problem, though — what if numbers and statistical comparisons aren’t the main criteria in measuring whether to retire a player’s jersey or not? What do I mean? Well, it’s “known,” almost as folklore or legend, in the Duke community that there are two main criteria for a player having his jersey retired.

Graduation and National Honors

Players like Elton Brand were no doubt headed for jersey retirement, but chose not to stay four years. Other players like Trajan Langdon had four good years, but no national honors to show for it (only 2nd team All-America).

Let’s define “National Honors“– (a) 1st Team All- America (b) National Player of the Year (c)National Defensive Player of the Year
(2nd/3rd team All-America as well as Conference or NCAA Tournament awards are not considered true national awards in this discussion.)

Kyle’s Resumé

A quick glance at Kyle’s resumé is quite impressive. He is top 5 in so many major stat categories (scoring, rebounding, etc.), including being only the 4th player in Duke history to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds. Obviously, winning the championship in 2010 sets him and Nolan apart from many other Duke classes.

Potential Problem – No national award. If this is really a requirement for jersey retirement,how does Singler’s get retired? Maybe it’s an unwritten rule that is more of a guiding principle.Honestly, I’ve never found anything written in stone. But the legend says it’s necessary.

Nolan’s Resumé

All statistical discussions aside, since one of the only statistical categories he breaks the top10 is in FT percentage, Nolan had a dominant senior season. One could argue Kyle never had adominant season (though 2010 was darn good).

Nolan already has a national award with the 1st team All-America honor. He’s also a candidatefor several NPOY awards.

Potential Problem: Career stats

Note: Merely winning a national award and graduating do not guarantee jersey retirement at Duke.

(Bob Verga & Chris Carrawell won 1st team AA honors; Tommy Amaker and Steve Wojciechowski won NDPOY honors)

Note: Every player to graduate and win National Player of the Year has had his jersey retired.

Decision Time!

So, where do I land?

Nolan and Kyle, other than sharing the National Championship, have had very dissimilar careers–Singler, the ultra-consistent 4-year standout player, and Smith, the ever-evolving player withthe dominant senior season and the All-America nod.

Package Deal? I wouldn’t be surprised if Nolan and Kyle are a package deal, meaning, either they both get retired, or neither does.
I mean, if only one goes, how do you distinguish between them? Nolan has the national award with the outstanding season, while Singler has the career stats.

Only time will tell. Regardless, Nolan and Kyle will forever be two of the most beloved Duke players.

Brandon Godwin is the first writer in our Crazie-Talk Experts series. (#CTexperts on Twitter). Check him out on his Twitter–he’s an excellent Duke fan like (most of) you.

Check Crazie-Talk every Friday for a new #CTexperts article. Our loyal readers will discuss Duke, the ACC, the NCAA, and all the greatness of college basketball.