Monday, March 23, 2009

NCAA to blame for empty seats


— With just over a minute to play, a chant of joy came out of the postage-stamp section of Arizona fans.

“Sweet 16!”

“Sweet 16!”

“Sweet 16!”

It was then a NCAA official looked to the empty upper deck in AmericanAirlines Arena and said, “Listen. Hear the echo?”

What did the NCAA expect?

Mix the 64th seed of college basketball markets with high ticket prices and teams better suited for south Phoenix than South Florida, and guess what kind of NCAA Tournament weekend you get? The three lowest-attended sessions between Friday’s crowds of 10,163 and 8,990 and Sunday’s 10,204.

No, this isn’t another cliche bash-the-South-Florida fan column. You could go that tired route. You could even hold the contest: Which was the bigger sporting black eye, the World Baseball Classic drawing crickets or these three NCAA Tournament crowds?

Why, in Sunday’s second half, Arizona coach Russ Pennell’s voice carried louder than expected in the quiet arena as he changed the defense. Cleveland State reacting accordingly.

“Hear that?” Norris Cole said. “They’re pressing.”

With Miami and Florida out of commission, there was only one way to help this regional, and the NCAA didn’t do it. It didn’t send Florida State in as cavalry. It couldn’t, according to NCAA Tournament representative Lynn Hickey.

Teams are placed at sites in order of seeds. So at least 16 teams already had been put in by the time fifth-seeded Florida State was up. Then, various scheduling policies must be followed. Like: Conference rivals can’t meet before the second weekend. Like: Teams that have played in the previous two seasons can’t meet.

“So by fifth seeds sometimes there’s only one place for a team to go,” Hickey said. “That’s why Florida State went where it did.”


AmericanAirlines Arena, meanwhile, got two Arizona teams, Utah, Cleveland State, Stephen F. Austin, Temple, Wake Forest (yeah, for the ACC fans) and Syracuse as the only team with any national reputation and local following.

Who, besides alums, would shell out $283 for that? Yet that was the combined price of the first-round games you had to buy. At least until they realized no one was buying and began selling individual games. Then the price dipped to a low of $73.

Our college basketball market, like our baseball market, is awful. We compete annually for the 50th and final ranking of TV markets for the NCAA championship game. The money is on us to defend the title this year.

But let’s see. The CA Championship drew 110,000 golf fans last week. The Heat and Panthers are in stretch runs. Tennis comes this week. The aforementioned WBC just came through town. The Marlins’ opener is two weeks away.

It’s the time of year the limited sports dollar is stretched thinner than Tyra Banks.

Three teams returned portions of their allotted 550 tickets. Of Utah’s starting five, only one player’s parents could make the cross-country trip.

In other words, this was a bad marriage for everyone. Yogi Berra once said something that resonates in our sports market: “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.”


Nutflush21 10 years, 10 months ago

I laughed when I found out the face value of tickets in KC was $183. I went the ebay route and found two lower level seats for the entire weekend for $155 total. The NCAA needs to wake up and realize that what they are charging way too much and only the diehards of the diehards are going to be willing to travel and go to the games.

bradh 10 years, 10 months ago

I went to the games in KC and there were more KU fans there than any other team. My favorite moment came late in the second half of the Memphis vs. Maryland game. Memphis fans were giving Maryland fans and the refs grief with every call, even though they were way ahead. Some other KU fan apparently got tired of it and started a "Let's go Jayhawks" chant. The Memphis fans were soon shut up. Amazing that fans without a team at the site could out cheer any other teams fans. Kind of sad too. I wonder if the NCAA noticed all the KU gear and cheers at the site (biggest cheers of the tournament came when highlights from the 2008 championship were shown). I doubt it, I don't think the NCAA are the brightest folks on the planet, or even Indianapolis.

Fredmandu 10 years, 10 months ago

It makes it obvious the reason why Kansas got shuttled to Minneapolis and Mizzou to Idaho: The NCAA knew Jayhawk and Tiger fans flock to see their teams and they wanted to ensure those arenas would be filled rather than fairly reward one of those teams by letting them stay home in KC.

Ryan Gerstner 10 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, the NCAA definitely screwed itself. KU fans sold out the Sprint Center and then when they didn't put any teams in there that travel well, KU fans got stuck with the tickets or had to dump them for not very much. So they took out a big portion of KU fans that might have traveled to Minneapolis and bought tickets there.

Danny Hernandez 10 years, 10 months ago

My only problem with the local seeding is then you have the situation that Duke or UNC find themselves in. They rarely leave Greensboro or the state of North Carolina often in the first round of the tournament and that gives them an unfair advantage imho.

100 10 years, 10 months ago

Nice point Nutflush.

Seems like the MSU game should be a full arena. The question is, will KU fans get beat by MSU fans....

irish2255 10 years, 10 months ago

The metrodome was anything but filled. The lower level was pretty much full, the upper level literally had about 100 people in it for KU v. Dayton. It was actually a pretty cheap trip. If KU would have made the Sprint Center, without already having tix since they would have have been selling for at least double, it would have cost me more to see them in KC than making the drive to Minneapolis.

Lance Hobson 10 years, 10 months ago

soswalt - that's what I was thinking. I'm fine with KU going to Minnesota, we haven't done anything in KC this year.

The NCAA got greedy first with the domed Final 4s, and now with the skyrocketing ticket costs. I don't get it, the Metrodome had thousands of empty seats in the upper decks. They should sell those for peanuts. But no, the NCAA is worse than AIG.

Lost_in_the_Phog 10 years, 10 months ago

Yeah I really don't understand why they had to play in the dome, instead of where the Timerwolves play. They could've played in a nice NBA arena, but they decided to play it on a football/baseball fieldj where there was almost no energy. I looked in the boxscore for the games in Minneapolis, and it said the attendance was under 15,000! thats freakin unbeliavable considering they could have had over 30,000. They would've made so much more money if they would have sold upper level tickets cheap.

KirkwoodHawk 10 years, 10 months ago

This reporter isn't much of a reporter. I would have immediately jumped on that rule that teams that have played each other in the past 2 years can't play each other, when aTm and BYU played each other in the 1st round for the 2d year in a row. I think getting rid of the cinderella teams also impacts attendance, because their fans usually show up in the early rounds because they are excited about their team because they have been winning. Who do you think would have brought more fans to the 1st and 2nd rounds, Creighton or Arizona?

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