Cavernous venues mean more seats, worse sightlines

SAN ANTONIO -- Section: 354

Row: 12

Seats: 21 and 22

Location: A mile or so from heaven

This is where John and Joy Matthews slowly climbed Friday, way up above the Alamodome floor where the Final Four was staged Saturday.

Way, way, way above it.

The couple from a small country town 25 miles outside Greenville, S.C., is here attending their first Final Four and wanted to get a first-hand, squint-your-eyes look from the spot they would be watching UCLA-Memphis and North Carolina-Kansas.

They bought two tickets through a broker for $900 each to sit in an area where binoculars are more necessary than optional to view the action below. Joy is 61, and John is 60. They couldn't be more ecstatic.

"This is on my Bucket List," John said, "something I have always wanted to do. It's well worth the price. But if it gets much bigger than this, you won't be able to see."

Oh, it's getting bigger. Much. More seats mean more tickets, which means more money for the NCAA.

What, you thought it would be satisfied with crowds of 45,000 forever? Detroit will host the Final Four next season at Ford Field, followed two years later in Houston and Reliant Stadium. Indianapolis gets the event in 2010.

The hope is that by reconfiguring football stadiums like those in Detroit and Houston that usually seat close to 50,000 for basketball, future crowds in excess of 70,000 can watch a season's final weekend.

Detroit and Houston hosted NCAA regionals this month, where gatherings of 57,028 and 32,931 showed.

But a regional is not a Final Four.

In 2003, Kentucky played Michigan State at Ford Field and 78,129 fans attended, the largest number for a game in college history. There were big issues (as in, thousands of standing-room-only fans couldn't see the game), but it was at that time NCAA officials began counting the potential for greater revenue during the NCAA Tournament's final three games each year. Began counting all those dollar signs.

Problems? Sightlines need to be adjusted and improved for thousands of Final Four seats so that paying $900 to sit on the moon at least allows you to see one of the baskets.

Also, stadium courts are raised 27 inches, meaning coaches and players will be looking up at the action and must use stairs to reach the playing surface. Kansas coach Bill Self chose to sit on a stool above his team's bench in Detroit.

Then there is the matter of a vast backdrop for shooters when there is no curtain draped to shut off areas behind the basket.

"It was pretty tough shooting at (Ford Field)," Kansas guard Sherron Collins said of where the Jayhawks played their two regional games. "You definitely needed some time to get used to it."

The same might be said for John and Joy Matthews, way, way, way up there. But look on the bright side. Come next year, the seats for which they paid so dearly here this weekend will seem like they're next to Billy Packer.