West getting shut out of Final Four fun
Seventeen years have passed since UCLA’s Tyus Edney went coast to coast to beat Missouri in the NCAA tournament. That year, 1995, also was the last time the NCAA demonstrated a coast-to-coast philosophy in terms of Final Four host cities.
Edney’s game-winning layup helped propel the Bruins to an eventual berth in the Final Four, which was held at the Kingdome in Seattle. Between 1949 and 1995 a West Coast city had hosted a Final Four at least once in every decade. However, the ultimate weekend of March Madness has not been held west of the Rockies — in fact not west of San Antonio — since Edney’s Bruins cut down the nets.
“The bottom line for the West Coast is we gotta get a city that wants to host it,” said CBS’ Jim Nantz, who will call his 22nd Final Four this weekend in New Orleans.
In terms of potential Final Four sites, the western half of the United States faces a one-and-done crisis. In 1997 the NCAA mandated a minimum seating capacity of 40,000 for its Final Four venue (since raised to 70,000 in 2009), which disqualifies all settings except the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (the Kingdome was imploded in 2000).
“That’s really the only place that could hold it,” Nantz said. “Hopefully, there’s going to be a group there in Arizona that’s going to say, ‘Wait a minute! We should have this in Glendale.’”
There is. There was.
Tom Sadler is the president and CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which operates the University of Phoenix Stadium and is charged with attracting major sporting events to Arizona. In 2008, when the NCAA last accepted bids for host cities, Sadler and his group made a half-hour presentation.
Sadler’s group enthusiastically expounded on the Valley of the Sun’s plethora of resorts, its sublime early April weather, and the fact that their venue already had hosted a BCS championship game and a Super Bowl. Sadler’s group was denied, while Indianapolis (2015) and Houston (2016) both were granted host years.
“We weren’t sitting on our hands,” Sadler said.
What Arizona lacks that Texas does not is “superfunds,” large amounts of public subsidies that may be used as economic development incentives to lure events. In Texas tax revenues are used to create state trust funds that in turn may be used to subsidize sporting events. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the organizers of last year’s Super Bowl in the Dallas area received an estimated $31 million in public support from the trust fund.
The NCAA will not divulge what cities offer in terms of financial guarantees when making their bids, but sources confirmed to The Daily that a financial consideration is implicit. Consider the Lone Star State. Is it a coincidence that such subsidies were first used in 2004 and that Texas will have hosted three NBA All-Star Games between 2006 and 2013 and five Final Fours between the years 2004 and 2016? And don’t forget last year’s Super Bowl.
Indiana has no such superfund system in place, but Indianapolis is the headquarters of the NCAA.
When Sadler was asked to compare the relative amenities of Houston and Phoenix, not to mention their comparative strengths as tourist destinations, his response was: “No comment.”
The greatest drawback to University of Phoenix Stadium is that it is located 18 miles west of downtown Phoenix and 25 to 30 miles from the Valley of the Sun’s premier resorts. Still, it hosts a BCS Championship Game every four years and will host Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. It even hosted the NCAA West regional final in 2009.
“We were one of the few cities used to prototype the new (70,000 seat-capacity) arrangement and we received high marks,” Sadler said. “That’s a slam dunk.”
Meanwhile, and perhaps not coincidentally, college basketball west of the Rockies suffers. In the past 10 years only one school from the region, UCLA, has advanced to the Final Four. “I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes, but not having a Final Four does hurt schools out here,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who guided the Bruins to the Final Four in 2006, ’07 and ’08. “There are aspects like the time zone difference, or the ability of a school’s fans to travel in large numbers to support their team.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott disagrees. “We don’t believe that the location of the Final Four has been a significant factor in the success of the Pac-12,” he said. He did add that “should the University of Phoenix Stadium have an opportunity to serve as host, we would fully support it as a future Final Four site.”
Final Four sites are spoken for through 2016. The NCAA has yet to announce when it will next accept bids for future sites, but Sadler and his coterie plan to make their pitch. “We hope to be able to convince them that Phoenix is an attractive host city,” Sadler said.
“That’s where it needs to go,” Nantz said.
At the very earliest, then, the Final Four will not return west until 22 years after its last visit.