ATLANTA - When you tune into Monday night's NCAA basketball championship, whether because you love the strains of "One Shining Moment" or because you're one of those lucky few whose bracket is still clinging to life, you'll notice that the players are running up and down a court that appears to be two feet higher than the surrounding floor. It's a strange effect, particularly when the camera catches bench players looking like they're sitting at the kids' table at Thanksgiving.
In the case of the Final Four, the reason for the elevated court, which sits 27 inches off the floor, is both aesthetic and financial. There's an obvious challenge to staging a basketball game, with its 4,700 square feet of court, on a space designed for a football field, with its 45,000 square feet. Seat rows in the Georgia Dome and similar gargantuan arenas aren't designed to slope to what would, in effect, be the 35-yard-line on each side of the field. So while most court arrangements in domes force the NCAA to use only half the arena (as happened last year in the regional final in the Georgia Dome), the elevated court allows the NCAA to situate the court in the center of the arena and sell thousands more tickets.
The practical result, however, is that the slope is so gentle that anybody who stands up, whether to cheer or escape for a beverage, sets off a reverse-domino effect behind them: two have to stand in the next row, three in the row behind them, and so on. The bulbous heads of the assembled sports media along the court also block a portion of the standard-level court from television cameras. You see? The NCAA is taking care of you, the viewer!
Several gyms around the country, including floors at Vanderbilt and Minnesota, have employed elevated courts for years. However, the elevated court in NCAA tournament play dates to 2008, when the Midwest regional final at Ford Field in Detroit, a dome with sight lines similar to the Georgia Dome, first experimented with the idea. And to date, there are no reports of injuries from players flying off the edge of the stage.
This arrangement isn't likely to change anytime soon. With next year's Final Four slated for Cowboys Stadium, the court is going to look like a postage stamp in the middle of an auditorium.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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