|Hoops at the 50: NCAA tourney set to debut new-look configuration|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 11 March 2008 12:41|
In Detroit and Houston, basketball courts will be set up in the middle of the field surrounded by newly created risers that were designed to provide unobstructed-view seating.
The hardwood will be 27 inches off the ground - above the 50-yard line - at Ford Field to create a staging effect as a quartet of teams compete later this month for a spot in the Final Four.
The home of the Detroit Lions' began its transformation to hoops on Tuesday as plywood and plastic were placed on the artificial turf. About 100 workers, who are expected to work 14-hour shifts, then began unloading trucks filled with material that will be used to create the seating system that was scheduled to take a week to install.
The facility is expected to be ready by March 25, three days before the games begin.
``This is the first time this has ever been done,'' said Bob Gardner, Ford Field's senior director of facility management.
The Final Four next month at San Antonio's Alamodome is expected to be the last one in which the court is near an end zone, with bleachers on one side and curtains cutting off some of the sections.
When the Motor City hosts the Final Four next year, the NCAA plans to use the same setup it will debut at the regional semifinals and finals March 28-30 in Detroit and Houston.
In Houston, curtains will still be used in the end zones for this year's tournament, but they'll be gone when it hosts the 2011 Final Four.
``The NCAA has done a great job at looking at the next generation of this event,'' Shea Guinn, president of SMG-Reliant Park, said in a telephone interview from Houston. ``What's happening here and in Detroit is the next step in the evolution of what has become one of the biggest sporting events in the entire country.''
For the folks at Ford Field, they've had some practice packing 70,000-plus people into the venue for hoops.
Kentucky beat Michigan State on Dec. 13, 2003, before a basketball world-record crowd of 78,129 fans.
The Wildcats made shots with daylight peeking through a 65-foot high glass wall, students without seats bounced on the turf and binoculars were a popular accessory in the upper deck.
BasketBowl's attendance record is safe, but enough tickets have already been sold to beat the previous mark for a regional without the benefit of knowing who even has a chance to play in Detroit.
Ford Field officials said 49,000 tickets have been sold and with the potential to sell about 25,000 more seats, the NCAA tournament attendance mark is within reach. The 1987 national championship game attracted a record crowd of 64,959 to watch Indiana beat Syracuse in the Louisiana Superdome.
Houston is not expecting as big a crowd, cutting off the end zones to create a seating capacity of 45,000. Guinn said 29,000 tickets have been sold.
Reliant Stadium's conversion crew will not have as much time as their counterparts in Detroit, either.
While Ford Field's transformation started two-plus weeks before its first NCAA tournament game, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs through March 22. Guinn and members of his staff plan to visit Detroit later this week, hoping to pick up some tips.
``We'll have about 2 million people through here for one humongous event, then we'll have about 80 hours to get everything ready for the NCAAs,'' Guinn said. ``Between the magnitude of the events and the installation of this new system, we're going to have our hands full.''
Garden Show cleared out of Ford Field on Monday, paving the way for a slew of plywood and plastic to cover the field and the risers that will hold 30,000 seats and cover the first 13 rows in the stadium.
``This is kind of a benchmark for the NCAA so that they can do it in other stadiums for years to come,'' Gardner said. ``That makes it pretty exciting for us.''