NCAA tourney floors often find new homes far from March spotlight

Jeff Eisenberg

When UNLV fans poured out of the stands last November after stunning North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational title game, the Tar Heels probably didn't realize this was the second time the floor at Orleans Arena had been the site of a celebration at their expense.

Kentucky players stood on that same court at the Prudential Center in Newark in March 2011 when they donned Final Four hats and snipped down pieces of the net after defeating North Carolina in the East Regional title game.

What made that coincidence possible is the NCAA's preference that the floors for the later rounds of the men's and women's NCAA tournament be freshly made and installed every March. Only the nine floors from First Four in Dayton and the first weekend of games are disassembled and stored in Salt Lake City and Amasa, Mich., to be reused again the following year.

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Connor Sports Flooring, the official court provider for the NCAA tournament, sells the used courts from the men's and women's Final Fours and each regional site for roughly $90,000 apiece — a $10,000-$15,000 saving on a brand-new floor. The past six men's national champions have each purchased the Final Four court where they captured the title, but the men's and women's regional courts often land in far-flung locations well removed from the March Madness spotlight.

Some former regional courts find a new home at NBA or minor-league arenas in need of an upgraded playing surface. Others are purchased by universities drawn by the slightly discounted price and the cache of practicing or playing on a floor with historical appeal. The places the 2012 regional floors will wind up include Ryerson University in Toronto, Illinois State's Redbird Arena and a resort in Puerto Vallarta that hosts a tournament each winter.

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"The allure of the NCAA tournament does help me sell them," said Gary Gray, portable sales manager at Connor Sports Flooring and a former basketball player at UC Santa Barbara. "Another way I try to sell the arena or sell the school is that it's going to be the same floor teams play on in the NCAA tournament. You have a home-court advantage that you're going to carry over if you make it."

Schools that win national championships typically purchase the floor they celebrated on for both sentimental and financial reasons.

Florida bought the floor on which it defeated UCLA for the 2006 national title, repainted it and made it the playing surface at the O'Dome the past six years. The Gators also splurged for the floor on which they repeateded in 2007, hanging four oversized squares of it on a wall of its practice facility with the logos from the four Final Fours the school has made on them.

By contrast, 2011 national champion UConn purchased the Reliant Stadium floor and had it cut up into tiny squares for memorabilia purposes. Fans can purchase a 3x5 rectangle of that court with a UConn logo on it for $60, a small square mounted on a plaque for $80 and a 12x16 piece of the court with the complete 2011 NCAA tournament bracket on it for $250.

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"Everyone wants a piece of this tournament," said Jeff Morton, Connor Sports Flooring's director of marketing. "It's amazing to see."

The team that buys the 2012 Final Four court that organizers installed at the Superdome this week will purchase a 60x120-foot piece of northern hardwood maple that has been treated with more care than the most pampered celebrity.

Pieces of every NCAA tournament court are stored in climate-controlled facilities that never exceed 72 degrees or drop below 67 out of fear of a temperature change causing the wood to expand or contract. Even when it's shipped on a flat-bed truck, the pieces of flooring are wrapped snugly in plastic with a wind-proof tarp over the top.

For the past week, the 2012 Final Four court has been on tour in a UPS 18-wheeler that has made promotional stops in Louisville, Atlanta, Auburn, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge. Then, once it arrived in New Orleans on Friday, it arrived at the Superdome in classic Crescent City style, a procession up Poydras Street, accompanied by cheering crowds, a band and beads.

"We do a tour for the Final Four floor every year and people just want to see the court and be next to it, so this year we're like, 'What do we do in New Orleans?'" Morton said. "They're like, 'Why don't we throw a parade?' It was full-on New Orleans style. It was great."

The Final Four floor should enjoy the glamour of March while it lasts. As with most of the NCAA tournament courts, it's short-lived.

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