NCAA should look to past for future regional sites

Geno Auriemma always will have fond memories of his first trip

to the NCAA regionals in 1991.

It was in his hometown of Philadelphia, and UConn was playing on

his birthday at one of his favorite arenas – the Palestra. The

Huskies went on to win that regional and lay the groundwork for

their incredible run to seven national championships in the last 16

seasons.

Twenty years later, the City of Brotherly Love hosted another

regional, but this time it was at Temple’s Liacouras Center and not

the iconic building on Penn’s campus.

Auriemma certainly would have loved another chance to play

there.

”When you go to places like that you just have this wow,” the

Hall of Fame coach said. ”When you think back to what happened at

those buildings, who coached there and who played there, what type

of significant games had been played there, it’s hard to beat

something like that.”

This is the 30th anniversary of the women’s NCAA tournament. How

great would it have been to have the regionals this year at the

Palestra, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Pauley Pavilion, and Cole Field House

– four basketball cathedrals?

John Feinstein, an author and historian of college basketball,

believes adding a new hook to the women’s tournament might be just

what the sport needs for it to grow.

”Put it in places where people might go just for the building.

How can that hurt?” he said. ”Go back to Municipal Auditorium in

Kansas City, shoot for those 8 to 10,000-seat buildings. Make

getting a ticket to a game a big deal.”

The Palestra has held more NCAA tournament games than any other

arena, and its 9,000 seats are the perfect amount for a women’s

regional. The men’s tournament won’t be back anytime soon because

it has simply outgrown the place, although it could work well for

the ”First Four.”

”We’d love to host again,” Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky

said. ”There have been so many great games played there. Even if

you have 4,500 people here it gets really loud.”

That’s about how many people showed up in Philadelphia on

Tuesday night to see UConn beat Duke. The Liacouras Center was less

than half full, even though overall attendance for the tournament

is up 65 percent over last season.

Dallas drew more than 11,000 fans for a regional final that

pitted Baylor and Texas A&M. Hometown team Gonzaga boosted the

attendance in Spokane, where nearly 12,000 fans turned out for the

Bulldogs’ loss to Stanford on Monday night.

Still, those numbers could have gone a different direction had

those teams not advanced.

Moving to a series of iconic buildings might draw the casual

fan’s interest and provide a fitting throwback to the golden era of

college basketball.

For that to happen, the NCAA would need to work with the schools

or conferences in those places to actually have them bid for the

honor of hosting.

”It seems that for an anniversary year, perhaps coming into

historic arenas like the Palestra or Pauley Pavilion would provide

a nice opportunity for the women’s game to become aligned with

those historic sites that are no longer big enough for the men’s

game,” said Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference commissioner Rich

Ensor, who is finishing up his five-year tenure on the women’s

selection committee.

Sure, most of the basketball history associated with those

buildings comes from the men’s side. But ESPN analyst Doris Burke,

who calls NBA games along with men’s and women’s college

basketball, thinks it should be something that the NCAA

pursues.

”I love that idea as an announcer,” she said, ”and for the

players to get a chance to play in the Palestra? If someone

explained the history to you, how much fun that would be?”

If the NCAA were to pursue the plan, there might be no better

place to play the Final Four than Madison Square Garden. The arena

has hosted the Maggie Dixon Classic the past four seasons and this

year’s edition brought in a crowd of 15,232.

”Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball, having

hosted the best in college hoops for more than 75 years,” MSG

Sports President Scott O’Neil said. ”We are constantly evaluating

the possibility of adding additional first-class events to our

schedule.”