One of the biggest stories of college basketball somehow flew under the
radar this summer as the NCAA decided that first and second round sites will
no longer be set by region. For example, Washington DC, who was supposed to
host first and second round East Region games, could end up hosting games
for both the West and South regions.
Based on last year’s Boise region, this seems like it could be a good idea.
With four teams from the mid-atlantic (Georgetown, George Mason, Maryland
and Hampton) playing in Boise, attendance was down. Had the region, which
consisted of those four teams along with Iowa State, Arkansas, Georgia State
and Wisconsin, been played in the MCI Center, there could have been
sold-out, energetic crowds for all six games. Even if half the region, with
Maryland, Mason, Georgetown and Arkansas, was played there, the NCAA could
have made more money.
It appears that the NCAA is trying to appeal to fans and alumni, while also
padding their pockets. For a George Mason fan trying to see his team play
in the tournament, booking a trip to Boise only days in advance can be
costly, not to mention very difficult. However, for that same fan, a quick
trip into the nation’s capitol would be quicker and most cost effective. At
the same time the NCAA will not only save face by not having empty seats on
national television, but also bring up revenues by filling arenas around the
This rule is not all good, however. As early tournament projections are
shaping up, it looks like the MCI Center will end up hosting first round
games for the East and South, with Duke and Maryland the marquee teams.
Fans will be treated to a pair of 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9 contests. I’m sure
the arena will be filled with Terrapin faithful cheering on their squad.
But that takes away from the fun of the tournament. Had this game been
played in Pittsburgh or Greenville, the Terrapins could have faced a hostile
environment as the crowd pulled for the underdog.
Last year Hampton got the backing of everybody in Boise, which helped lift
them to their win over Iowa State. Differences in talent can easily be made
up if the lower seeded team has the crowd behind them. Every year, there is
always one team that puts an early scare into a Final Four contender. With
the new rule, they will not only have to overcome the possible lack of
tournament experience, but 16,000 fans as well.
Coaches will have to deal with problems of their own. By splitting up
possible Sweet 16 opponents, they are limiting scouting time even further.
Coaches used to be able to watch the other teams at their site to get a feel
of who they may be facing in the regional semifinals. That may not hold
true in all regions.
In addition, some squads may have to face huge travel demands. If UC Irvine
gets placed in West Region games being played in Pittsburgh, they could have
to deal with flying across the country to play their first two games, then
back out west for the regionals. Not an easy task considering they’ll be
playing up to four games in a ten day span.
Somehow, the NCAA passed this rule with very few people noticing. Maybe
they didn’t understand what it meant, or maybe they didn’t understand the
possible consequences. If I had my way, the NCAA would (much like the
Patriots this past weekend) get a mulligan and correct their mistake.