Monday, April 26, 2010

Where should the Play-In games be held?

In a strange turn of events, the NCAA has decided NOT to add 32 at-large teams to next year's college basketball tournament, thus saving all of us the pain of filling out a 96-team bracket on a 18x11 sheet of paper. Instead, only three at-large teams will join the dance, meaning each region will have it's own play-in game.

Instead of debating what method of expansion is more tolerable, lets get realistic and start looking towards March Madness 2011. Here's my off-the-beaten-path question: Where exactly are they going to play these four play-in games?

This might not have too much relevance in the overall scheme of tournament expansion, but I mean, aren't we all sick of debating the same thing over and over? This might have little importance to the actual tournament, but it's the off-season and the topic-well is starting to become dry.

The UD Arena, home to the Dayton Flyers, has been the site for the play-in game since 2001, and will continue to do so until 2013. The arena was renovated prior the 2001 season and seats roughly 14,000 people, which is the ideal number of fans for a NCAA opening round game. After all, Play-in games won't draw big crowds, so large-capacity stadiums are unnecessary (there is nothing worse than watching a tournament game and seeing an empty upper-deck).It would be pointless to hold the game at say, the un-affiliated, 21,000-seat Quick N' Loans Arena.

Now, while it would be logical to place all four play-in games in Dayton over the course of two days, I'm not sure this would be the most logical decision.

More than likely, the four play-in games will feature the eight weakest automatic qualifiers, so the teams would probably come from different corners of the country (Big Sky, NEC, MEAC, Southland, Summit....). So it would make more sense to designate an arena in each part of the country as the play-in host for that particular region. After all, there are a handful of very good arenas between 8,000-18,000 that would work well as host sites for a NCAA play-in game.

First let's take a look at what sites would work for the Midwest play-in game.

Obviously, The UD Arena is the top draw. It will host a play-in game until 2013 when the contract expires. It is a large, very clean and attractive arena. It is located in a large college town, and is with-in close travel distance from most Midwest hubs and other Ohio colleges.

The Qwest Center, home of the Creighton Blue Jays would also serve as a great site for a opening round game. Creighton fans are a passionate bunch and I am sure that season ticket-holders would go to this game even if their Blue Jays aren't playing.

The 18,000 seat arena in Omaha, Nebraska would be ideal because it has been renovated recently (2006) and would be a quick plane flight away from regional sites like Kansas City, St. Louis, or Oklahoma City. I've watched many a game played at the Qwest Centre and I can tell you that the atmosphere is one to remember.

Not too many gyms in the Midwest, let alone the country are as old or as legendary as the Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs. While the Hinkle has much more wear-and-tear than the newer arenas, the size (roughly 8,000) and the location (Indianapolis) make it a good fit.

Plus, it is a great draw for local fans because the place inspires so much history. If I was a fan of the IUPUI Cougars and they won the Summit League, I'd sure as hell make the weekend trip to Indy for the play-in game.

These would work too:
The BOK Center - Tulsa, OK - 16,000
Hilton Coliseum - Iowa State - 15,000

In the west, The Thomas & Mack Center, home to UNLV, would be a solid location for the play-in game. First off, it's Vegas, so obviously it's a no-brainer. With a capacity of roughly 18,000, it might be a bit too large for a opening round game, but it is a 5-star venue, hosting events such as NBA All-Star Weekend, numerous WWE pay-per-views, and of course, the Pro Bull Riding Championships.

How about New Mexico's University Arena?, also known as The Pit. It is one of the best venues in all of college basketball. It is true that the atmosphere for the play-in game would be much different than a Lobos home game, but The Pit has something special about it.

The Pit seats 16,000, and is a single-bowl arena, so even if it isn't filled to capacity, it will look more-filled than an arena with two or three bowls. Plus New Mexico would work for West Regional sites like San Antonio, Denver, Phoenix, or Salt Lake City.

These would work too:
Viejas Arena - San Diego State - 12,000
Hec Edmundson Pavilion - Washington - 11,000

There is only one place on the East Coast (not including MSG) that I want to see the East Regional game played: The Palestra. The home to the Big-5 in Philadelphia, The Palestra is known as the College Hoops Cathedral.

It is small (8,000) and old (broke ground in 1926) but you won't find a more intimate college hoops setting. Any game played at The Palestra is sure to be really loud. Also, it would be an added bonus for mid-major teams to be able to play a NCAA tournament game at The Palestra. Because after all, it's very unlikely that any teams playing an opening round game will make it past the first round.

If the Palestra was unavailable, I would also consider using The Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. It's the perfect size (12,000) and has hosted previous tournament games. Providence Is an ideal setting for single play-in game.

Plus Southwest Airlines has flights from Baltimore, Manchester, Boston and Rochester for Around $150 round-trip...(that's what happens when you go to boarding school. Instead of living in different neighborhoods, your friends live in different states.)

These would work too:
The RAC - Rutgers - 8,000
The Patriot Center - George Mason - 10,000

Our final region, the South, features a handful of good venues in metropolitan areas accessible to large fan bases and other regional sites. The O'Connell Center at Florida, more appropriately known as "The O'Dome" would be a perfect site. It's got perfect size (12,000), is in an accessible part of Florida to the rest of the South, and is a nice-enough arena to be used by the NCAA, even if it is just for one game.

"The O'Dome" has gained a huge reputation for being a rowdy place to play. Obviously, a play-in game would not be as rowdy as a Gators home game, but nonetheless, I think "The O'Dome" would be a good choice.

A venue in the deep south that doesn't get nearly enough attention is the Thomas Assembly Center and Karl Malone Court. The home arena for the Louisana Tech Bulldogs is an underrated venue, but is ideal size (9,000). Having recently been rennovated thanks to the generous donations of "The Mailman", it would serve as an interesting candidate for an opening round host site.

I am well aware that Ruston, the home to Louisiana Tech, is in the middle of nowhere. But the Ruston Regional airport does service flights to New Orleans, Shreveport, Little Rock and Dallas. Come on people, work with me a bit here.

These would work too:
The Sun Dome - South Florida - 10,000
Lawrence Joel Coliseum - Wake Forest - 15,000

So in review, next year's tournament will feature four play-in games instead of one, but atleast it's not 96. We already know one game will be played in Dayton, Ohio. It is very possible that all four get played in Dayton, but hopefully somebody on the selection committee will have read this and decided to use some of these fabulous arenas to hold play-in games.


otterman34 said...

That was well thought out and an enjoyable read. Thanks for taking the time to think about, research and post.

Paul said...

Great job reviewing all the possible sites. I am partial to the UD Arena (wife is a grad). Dayton locals are great basketball fans and will fill the place. Of course, that could be said for all the sites you have mentioned.

Play all four games on Tuesday in two different sites. One in the East and one in the West.

Troy Machir said...

Yea I think having two sites, and all 4 games on one day would be the best. Regardless if its the 8 last at-larges or the 8 worst atuomatic qualifiers, we should have one in the east and one in the west. Omaha and Philly would work well.

wildjays said...

I just finally had a chance to see these suggestions. I think it would be great if they had an opening round game in Omaha. BTW, the picture you have associated with the Qwest Center is a picture of the Omaha Civic Auditorium where Creighton played until the Qwest Center was built in 2003.

Troy Machir said...

@Wildjays - I'm a big fan of the Qwest Center. Thanks for the heads up. This is exactly why I'm working for BIAH and not ESPN.