Does basketball belong in football stadiums?
Last Sunday, 108,713 people packed into Cowboys Stadium to watch the NBA All-Star game. It was, by all accounts, an unquantifiable success — so much that the NBA hinted at putting Dallas in its All-Star rotation.
Cowboys Stadium, a glistening $1.15-billion spectacle, will also host the 2014 Final Four. And again, 100,000-plus people will jam into a stadium meant for a football field, not a 94-foot-long piece of hardwood.
In fact, all of the foreseeable Final Fours will be hosted in football venues — Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Houston’s Reliant Stadium, New Orleans’ Superdome, Atlanta’s Georgia Dome and North Texas’ Jerry World.
There’s something wrong with this.
Basketball is an intimate sport — one founded on fans’ proximity to the action. Without this aspect, places such as Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kan.), Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.), and Cameron Indoor Stadium (Durham, N.C.) would not be nearly as awe-inspiring.
And when you put a sport like basketball in a football dome — especially one that holds 100,000 or more patrons — it loses its intimacy.
In 2004, I traveled four hours down I-70 to watch my Kansas Jayhawks in the St. Louis Rams’ Edward Jones Dome, host to the Midwest Regional Final. I sat in the upper deck for Kansas’ Sweet 16 matchup against UAB. A few hundred feet from the court, I felt like I was watching ants scatter on the ground.
It was a lot like going to a modern-day football game, only less expensive.
(I love football, but it has become a sport that’s immensely more entertaining to watch from home, thanks to HDTV, sky-rocketing ticket prices and the invention of personal-seat licenses. Seriously, how many true home-field advantages are left in the NFL? Not many.)
Kansas won the game 100-74, but you could’ve convinced me otherwise had there not been a decent-sized scoreboard in the place.
Two days later, we decided to find good seats, prices be damned. For $100 per ticket, we sat six rows behind Georgia Tech’s bench for Kansas’ Elite 8 game against the Yellow Jackets. I could hear head coach Paul Hewitt dissect plays, chew out his players and argue with officials.
It was as intimate as it gets.
The problem is, this experience is a rarity for a big-time NCAA tournament game. Had we not decided to shell out $200, we would have likely been in the upper deck again, watching specks run up and down a wood-paneled floor.
In the past six years, the problem has persisted, with football venues hosting most regional finals and every Final Four. In fact, the last Final Four held in a basketball arena was 14 years ago in New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena. Just last year, the NCAA mandated that all Final Four facilities seat at least 70,000 patrons. It was unclear whether the powers that be required everyone to have a clear view of the court.
Soon enough, NCAA tournament games will be defined more by the revenue produced than the quality of fans’ experiences. This mentality has already ruined football’s in-person viewing, and now basketball is trading its intimacy for deeper pockets.
Perhaps what’s most disheartening isn’t the greed, because that’s to be expected; it’s that drawing six-figure attendance numbers will soon become the norm in basketball. And something about that doesn’t seem right.
Scott Miller is a junior at the University of Iowa and a contributor to the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter: @stmillr.