In the most palatial football stadium in a self described football state, the spectacle of college basketball’s signature event was on full display Saturday night when the sport set an all time Final Four attendance record. Nearly 80,000 (79,444) fans crammed into AT & T Stadium in Arlington marking the seventh and most impressive time Texas has hosted the grand event.
The NCAA may have also set a record for most people watching a live event on a giant television screen with the cavernous conditions of Jerry World and a video board that can be seen from outer space. Nonetheless, the spectacle of the Final Four has progressed light years from when the Lone Star state first rolled out the red carpet in 1971 at Houston’s Astrodome.
The basketball and the accompanying storylines weren’t bad either. Two teams that failed to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament will play for the national championship Monday night. One of those teams generated buzz about being a candidate to go undefeated back in November, only to spend nearly the entire campaign considered vastly overrated, yet finish their season where many expected them to all along, playing in Monday’s title game.
It’s also hard not to think the one and done system of college players bolting to the NBA after one year in school, is doing a great disservice to both the collegiate and professional games. Yet the veteran and experienced teams in Florida and Wisconsin headed home after losses Saturday and the Kentucky Wildcats, with a who’s who of freshman talent, play on.
Two schools with multiple national championships have an opportunity to add to their program’s resume, hoisting the trophy Monday night a few minutes before “One Shining Moment” caps another college basketball season.
The spectacle of a Final Four may never top the Super Bowl. The NFL reigns supreme. Super Sunday has something for everyone from the game to the halftime performances, funny commercials and of course, wagering.
The Final Four may be firmly entrenched right behind the Super Bowl with March Madness that leaks into April, a three week long celebration of the sport wedged between football and baseball seasons and of course their own wagering element, brackets.
Sporting events have long ceased being just about the game(s). The Final Four is no different. North Texas hosted a Final 4 Dribble parade through the streets of Dallas, a Road to the Final 4 5K, a March Madness Music Festival with free outdoor performances from Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw and Bruce Springsteen. The concerts were located not far from the Fan Fest called Bracket Town in the Convention Center.
AT & T Stadium hosted free events Friday with the traditional hour long practices for the four teams. A college all star game followed. The Tip-Off Tailgate Parties at the stadium weren’t bad either. Dierks Bentley performed free of charge before the semifinals Saturday. Kid Rock will take the stage Monday before the national championship.
The Final Four is also considerably more affordable than the Super Bowl with the face value of two upper deck seats for the three games, costing approximately $400. Unlike the much more expensive Super Bowl, tickets are readily available throughout the week because of the number of fans who purchase tickets in advance only to have their team’s bow out in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. Tens of thousands of fans also make the trip yearly to see the event regardless of the participating teams.
The NCAA’s policies and enforcement will probably never cease to generate intense debate and criticism. But they sure do know how to throw a grand party.
Get ready Houston. You are on the clock to host the Final Four again in 2016.
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