Sixteen years after the Final Four last took place in anything besides cavernous domed football stadiums, the NCAA has apparently begun looking into more intimate venues for its showcase basketball event.
ESPN.com reported Thursday night that the NCAA and the men's basketball selection committee have discussed the possibility of playing the Final Four in an arena in a major metropolitan city. Such a move couldn't happen until at least 2017 because the next four Final Fours are booked for domes in Atlanta, Arlington, Indianapolis and Houston.
The upside to going back to arenas would be that the more intimate setting is more conducive to basketball and would give the NCAA greater ability to host the event in destination cities like Los Angeles or New York. Of course, the downside would be that as much as 50,000 fewer tickets would be available to the general public, sending prices skyrocketing.
To get a better idea how players might feel about such a change, Yahoo! Sports spoke to four guys who have played in Final Fours about the topic. Ex-Kentucky guard Jeff Sheppard, ex-Michigan State forward A.J. Granger, former VCU guard Joey Rodriguez and current Butler center Andrew Smith each weigh in on that topic below.
The NCAA is considering having NBA-style arenas host the Final Four in the future rather than domed football stadiums. Do you have a preference?
SHEPPARD: I lean toward the big venues. I think the Final Four is a special event, and what makes it so special is it being in a football stadium with the bright lights on you. I've always told people it's different playing in the Final Four, different even than playing in the other rounds of the NCAA tournament or in the SEC tournament. I think that's good. I think it helps the event. Also, there are obvious reasons for fans to want to keep it at the bigger arena because they get to get in. It's easier to get a ticket. I can't imagine what kind of price tag they'd put on tickets if they go from 80,000 seats to 20,000. So I'm all for keeping it in the big domes. I love the atmosphere it creates.
SMITH: I really like the football domes. It does take a few shots to get used to the huge area behind the backboard, but as much as the announcers talk about it, it's not really that much of a factor. At least it wasn't for me. And doing it in the domes is really special for the players because not a lot of people get to play in front of 70,000 fans. We all play in similar arenas to NBA arenas all the time. The Final Four you get that special feeling being in front of 70,000 people at a huge football stadium. It's a pretty amazing thing to walk out of the tunnel and see 70,000 people or even see 20,000 people there to watch shootaround. I personally would hate to give that up.
RODRIGUEZ: It was cool playing in Houston at Reliant Stadium, but I've had much rather have played that game at the United Center, where we played the second and third round. It was so much easier playing in an arena than it was in that dome. We scored pretty well in the semifinal, but not as well as we did the rest of the tournament. Then you watch the national championship game (between Butler and UConn). Seeing guys shoot as badly as they did in that game, that's evidence to me that it needs to be moved because all those guys can shoot the ball. The backdrop has something to do with it. So it was cool to experience playing in a football stadium, but playing in the Final Four, in a game you really want to win, I'd rather play in an NBA-style arena.
GRANGER: I didn't mind too much playing in a dome as long as the fans were part of the game. Given my choice I'd much rather play in a basketball arena, but it's more about the fans than it is the shooting backdrop. When you put a basketball floor in the corner of a dome like what Syracuse does on a normal basis and you can bring in temporary bleachers, I don't mind that. But I went to the Final Four at Ford Field and that isn't good for anybody. I was literally 20 rows off the floor behind the student section off one of the corners, and I could hardly see what was happening. I would rather stay home and watch the game than not see a basketball game because you probably only have anyone in the first 15 rows who can experience the game. They're pumping the sneaker squeaks through the speaker system to make you feel like you're closer to the floor. I found it very unappealing to watch a basketball game from that environment.
The College World Series has traditionally been held in Omaha every year. Would you rather one city become a permanent host for the Final Four or have the event rotate from city to city the way it does now?
SHEPPARD: I've never thought about that, but my gut feeling is to say I love that idea of having a permanent host city. To me, what makes sense is to have it in Indianapolis, site of NCAA headquarters. If you're a college baseball player, you grow up wanting to play in the World Series in Omaha. It's part of the backyard talk. As a basketball player, the high school athletes in Kentucky dream about playing in the state championship at Rupp Arena. Every t-shirt you see uses that as motivation. I love that. I wish they played the SEC tournament in Atlanta every year. I think that mentality makes sense. I point to Indianapolis because they have a great venue there, NCAA headquarters are there and it's Indiana.
SMITH: The only city I'd want it to be in every year is Indianapolis. I think personally, cycling through different cities is probably a better thing just because it feels new every year. When we had the Super Bowl here last year, it was a pretty special time for Indianapolis. I know other cities enjoy having events like that, and obviously it's good for those cities because it brings in a ton of money. So I think the cycling process is good. It would be too difficult to choose one location.
RODRIGUEZ: I like the rotation. I think it's good different cities get to experience it. If you have it in one particular city, how are you going to pick? I like the rotation. I think there are a lot of different cities that host it really well. They already go to a lot of the same cities all the time, but with how these football stadiums are now with the high-tech screens they have, they can have it anywhere.
GRANGER: I like to see the rotation at that level. In a conference tournament, there's something to be said for the consistency. But once you get into the NCAA tournament, I enjoyed playing at different arenas. We went to the Final Four two years in a row, and I enjoyed the experience of playing at different sites. For us, it created a unique advantage. My junior year when we lost to Duke, were certainly didn't have an advantage. But my senior year we went from Cleveland, to Detroit, to Indianapolis, and we certainly had more of a local presence. I think we were lucky because it was Indy that year, but I don't think it's a good thing to have it in the same city year after year.