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9/13/2007 11:19:00 AM
Bring Back the Barns: An NCAA Tourney Proposal
Aaron Brooks drives for a layup in January at Oregon's famed Mac Court.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Philly's tiny Palestra no longer meets the NCAA's seating-capacity requirements to host tournament games ... but who cares about ticket sales?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Cash registers are ringing out the elegy music for basketball landmarks. Mostly, I blame the old gyms' architects: How could they have failed to foresee, 80 years in advance, that an arena would no longer be suitable if it didn't generate revenue through luxury boxes for corporations and law firms?
Three weeks ago, the University of Oregon's athletic ATM -- aka Nike founder and dedicated booster Phil Knight -- announced he was donating $100 million to the school, mainly for the construction of a state-of-the-art hoops arena. The Ducks already had one of the nation's top home-court advantages in 80-year-old Mac Court, but the college-sports arms race necessitated they upgrade.
Forty-seven-year-old Cole Field House suffered a similar fate at Maryland in 2002; it was replaced by the $125 million Comcast Center. It was at Cole that Texas Western -- with its all-African-American starting five -- changed the game by winning the 1966 national title, but the field house's floor has since been covered with green turf and repurposed as an indoor soccer field.
In Kansas City, the glass-walled Sprint Center will open in October and inherit the CBE Classic, a Thanksgiving-week tournament that had been the last prominent college hoops event at Municipal Auditorium. The Aud' may look like a art-deco mausoleum, but it has hosted more tournament games (83) and Final Fours (nine) than any other building. And while the University of Missouri at Kansas City's team still calls it home, Summit League games are a far cry from the NCAA tournament.
As the Big Dance's most venerable venue is further marginalized, the dance itself is only growing in scale. In 2006-07, two of the four Regional sites, at St. Louis and San Antonio, were held in football domes, their hangar-like ambiance muted only by large curtains on one side of the floor. The Final Four was in the Atlanta Falcons' Georgia Dome. Next year's NCAA tournament will have three of its four regionals on football fields, and the next three Final Fours will be held at the homes of the Alamo Bowl, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans. The popularity of the event -- both from fans and media -- demands an arena with massive capacity, but the setting hardly reflects the spirit of the sport.
Given the money CBS pays to televise March Madness -- $6 billion over 11 years, or $545 million per year -- the NCAA just might be able to consider holding at least one Sacrificial Tournament: Sacrifice logistical conveniences, arena-size concerns and ticket revenue for the sake of playing the season's most meaningful games at its most storied venues, and the Road to the Final Four becomes the Magical History Tour. A big dance needs 13 venues (eight first-and-second round, four regional, one Final Four) in four regions; my proposal is all mapped out below:
First/Second Round Sites:
The Spectrum, Philadelphia: It's now called the Wachovia Spectrum, but this tournament has a no-corporate-naming-rights rule, so the lovable old arena reverts to the name it had in 1992, when Christian Laettner, Duke and Kentucky staged perhaps the greatest NCAA tourney game of all-time on its floor. Indiana fans also have a special attachment to the Spectrum: it's where Bob Knight won his first two national titles.
Madison Square Garden, New York: It's currently the host of the best college hoops in November and December (the Jimmy V Classic, the NIT Season Tip-Off), as well as early March (the Big East Tournament), but there hasn't been an NCAA tournament game in Manhattan since 1961. At its old location on 50th Street and 8th Avenue, the Garden was the site of six straight Final Fours during the World War II era, and was long considered the nation's biggest showcase for college basketball.
Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.: In addition to being the college game's most beautiful "big" home venue, its namesake, Dr. Forrest C. "Phog" Allen, gets partial credit for the idea of the NCAA tournament. And his mentor, James Naismith, both founded the KU program and invented the game of basketball. It's a shame a tourney game hasn't been played in the Phog since 1979.
Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.: Some call Oklahoma State's home the best arena in all of college hoops. I'm going to dock it authenticity points because its exterior has been completely overhauled -- it needed to expand to 13,000-plus seats and add luxury boxes! -- but it's still in the top five. The "Madison Square Garden of the Plains" has only hosted five tourney games ever, and none since 1958.
Regional Final Site:
Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis: I went to the home of Hoosiers for the Southern Illinois-Butler BracketBusters game last season and fell in love with it. I'd put the Final Four here if not for the fact Hinkle has limited NCAA-tourney history, hosting just one East Regional, in 1940. Milan High-Muncie Central remains its greatest game.
Hinkle Fieldhouse, before a Butler-Southern Illinois game in February.
First/Second Round Sites
Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.: A couple of tourney rules: Teams can't play at their home venues, but their students will be allotted a sizable block of tickets right next to the floor. So while Cameron won't be the same without the Crazies, this could be a fine opportunity for say, the Izzone to do some repetitive hopping. Strange that only one tourney game ever -- in 1954 -- has been played on Duke's campus.
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.: Rupp is one of the few arenas that the current NCAA tournament has right; in '07, it hosted an early-round pod that included now-Kentucky coach BillyGillispie's Texas A&M squad. The relevant history here -- in addition to UK's seven national-title banners in the rafters -- is that Rupp was the scene of Villanova's miraculous title run in 1985. If the building weren't attached to a shopping mall, I'd consider it for the Regional Finals.
Regional Final Site
Freedom Hall, Louisville, Ky.: It's not the most aesthetically pleasing arena, but consider its history: In 1958, the Hall was the site of AdolphRupp's last national championship at Kentucky, and in '67, it was the site of the first title in UCLA's run of seven straight, with Lew Alcindor making his NCAA tournament debut. In '69 Alcindor's Bruins won again in Louisville, with the future Kareem scoring 37 points in the finale. That was the last of Freedom Hall's six Final Fours.
First/Second Round Sites
MacArthur Court, Eugene, Ore.: The soon-to-be replaced "Pit" reaches higher decibel levels than any other gym on the West Coast, and will go down as one of the NCAA's greatest venues. The first NCAA-tourney champs, Oregon's "Tall Firs," called Mac Court home in 1939. The lone surviving member of that team, John Dick, appeared in a Tourney Blog post on the eve of the '06 title game, discussing the site of the '39 Final Four. That was Northwestern's first version of Patten Gym ... which was soon torn down to make way for the campus' Technical Institute. Sad.
Cow Palace, Daly City, Calif.: This livestock barn just outside of San Francisco has hosted more famous concerts -- particularly by the Grateful Dead -- than it has college basketball games, but it still has an important place in the sport's history. Bill Russell's back-to-back national championship teams from the University of San Francisco played their big home games at the Palace in 1955 and '56, and in '60, it hosted the Final Four where Ohio State Buckeyes John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight won their lone title as players.
Regional Final Site
Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle: There is a "Bank of America" attached to the front of Hec Ed's name that would have to be erased for this tournament. That issue aside, the Washington Huskies' home has hosted a few classic NCAA moments, including Rupp's second title at Kentucky (in 1949) and Phog Allen's only title at Kansas (in 1952).
Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City: For the 10th time -- and the first since 1964, when a coach named John Wooden won his first title at UCLA -- the Final Four would converge on 13th and Wyandotte Streets in K.C. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Municipal Auditorium established itself as the original mecca of college hoops, but the Bruins' first championship was also the building's last NCAA tournament game.
For fans to be able to pour in through the Aud's marble-floored and chandelier-ceilinged lobby, rather than trudge up ramps of a football stadium, would be special. Only 10,000 people, rather than 40,000, would fit inside. But would it really pose a financial problem? With that kind of scarcity, non-student seats could be sold for the same price as a skybox.
The exterior of Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, in 2006.
Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, N.C.: This art-deco relic, a glaring omission from the initial roster, is the blog commenters' write-in vote. I'm open to moving the play-in game from Dayton to Tobacco Road -- and there's no better place for it than Reynolds, which the Wolfpack's men's team abandoned in 2000 for the more posh RBC Center. It's considered by some to be the birthplace of big-time ACC basketball, hosting the first 13 conference tournaments. Forty-one NCAA-tourney games have been played there, but none since the East Regional in 1982. N.C. State plays one "heritage" game there each year ... but this on-campus jewel warrants more action.
What a GREAT idea! Back in the early 70s in Kansas City, we saw several NAIA national tournament games in Municipal Auditorium (Some guy named Lloyd B. Free lit up the place). A zillion games (64 teams) in five days or so. Got to cheer for Slippery Rock University.
I also lived in Indianapolis for 10 years and made it to Hinkle Field House for some Butler games. What a joy that old place is. It creaks with the weather and the sound seems to come back magnified right through you.
How do you leave off the original "Pit" in Albuquerque. This is the place of Jim Valvano's championship with him running all over the floor. The NCAA has told the University of New Mexico it will not host any more games because of the lack of boxes.
How could you write an article about venerable old "barn" type arenas and not mention Reynolds Coliseum? It's the birthplace of the ACC Tourney and at one time was the largest arena in the South East. Yes, we all know about Cameron Indoor (at least 90s-today), but it was designed after Reynolds, and has a much richer history!
Gotta agree with the Reynold's Colliseum commenters. And this is coming from a die hard UNC fan. (Old Carmichael had the noise to compete, but it looks like a high school gym.) Reynolds is one of the greatest old arenas in the country -- leaving it off (and including the highly overrated Cameron) is a travesty.
Cole Field House in College Park might merit a mention, as well.
As a die-hard Kentucky Wildcat fan I was pleased to see you included Lexington in the mix. However, you picked the wrong area ... Memorial Coliseum on campus (the Wildcats home prior to Rupp) is a classic!
Luke, I must take issue with the following statement: 'That was Northwestern's first version of Patten Gym ... which was soon torn down to make way for the campus' Technical Institute. Sad.' Wow! An Institute for Higher Learning tearing down a sports complex for classrooms instead of the other way around. After such a statement, any negative remark about a school placing athletics above learning would seem hypocritical in my opinion.
Luke, I have always be entertained with your writing, but you fell short on this one. What about Stokley Athletic Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee. You have forgotten that the UK-UL rivalry was revived here in an NCAA Tournament fame in 1982, with UL blowing out UK in OT, which led to an annual game henceforth. 12,700 seat capacity, it was the home of the "Ernie and Bernie Show" and the late, great, coach Ray Mears roamed the sidelines during the heyday of the seventies. C'mon, give us some play and stop being a homer. Anyone can vote for Duke, Kansas, etc. You also left out Carmichael at UNC.
That 1979 NCAA Midwest Regional at Allen Fieldhouse was special not only for being the last, but it featured Larry Bird. He tallied 22 points and grabs 13 boards in Indiana State's 86-69 win over Virginia Tech.
* Let's just agree that Reynolds Coliseum should be in there; we'll give it the play-in game as a late addition.
* Not every choice was made based on how old/small a place was. Sometimes NCAA-tourney history took precedence. For example, as one commenter pointed out, UK has Memorial Coliseum on its campus, which is probably a better pick aesthetically ... but I also love the fact that the '85 Villanova win came at Rupp. Same goes for the Spectrum with Laettner. There are definitely prettier arenas than the Spectrum. As for MSG, as one smart commenter pointed out, it has moved a few times, but I'm fine with keeping it in because it's retained a mecca-like sporting atmosphere.
* A few others that I seriously considered (in hopes of slowing down the "you shoulda" comments): The Pit in Albuquerque (in retrospect, probably a better choice than the Cow Palace), Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx, UW Fieldhouse in Madison, McGaw Hall in Evanston (site of the '56 Final Four, and the campus of the first Final Four), Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park (second home for USF in the Bill Russell era) and McDonough Gymnasium at Georgetown. All are worthy candidates.
Everything else looks pretty good; Keep UD arena for the play-in game. History - 72 NCAA tourney games, 4th place overall and 2nd among current venues. UD also made the finals in the late 60's and ran UCLA to overtime in the early 70's in a regional final. The arena has a lot of history, and has been a great venue for the game. Besides - do you really think you'd get the NC State pep band to adopt one of the play-in teams by learning its fight song and dressing in its school colors, and that nearly EIGHT THOUSAND people (on average) would show up there for a game between two teams they don't even know?
Luke, Your Midwest Regional comments are on the mark. Allen Fieldhouse and Municipal Auditorium are special places to witness a college basketball event as important as the NCAA tournament. As a native of the KC area, I was disappointed when the NAIA and Big 8 tournaments moved from Municipal Auditorium to Kemper Arena. As a KU alum, there's no better place to see a college basketball game than Allen Fieldhouse.
It's a shame the $$$ in filling stadiums and arenas holding 40-60,000 people in order to satisfy the "gate" have overshadowed basketball venues like "The Phog Allen Fieldhouse" and Municipal Auditorium.
Reynolds was the cradle of ACC basketball (from the old Southern Conference), hosted NCAA Championship teams in '74 and '83 (not to mention the undefeated team barred from the tournament in '73), and was THE BARN of the Southeast. Cameron was copied off of Reynolds, and before the Cameron Crazies you had the Reynolds Rowdies.
Otherwise you are right on with most of your picks, I'd personally go with: Midwest: Allen Fieldhouse South: Reynolds Coliseum East: Cole Field House West: Cow Palace
I can live with MSG for the Final Four since it's been the big show for long enough.
Great idea. It is a shame more people can't take in the histories of some of these famed "old" arenas because of the want of more money. A game on Eddie Sutton court in Stillwater, OK would be awesome.
I was very psyched in the mid 90s to be attending an OU-KU game at Allen Fieldhouse. I have a reverence for old stadiums and arenas. I thought I would feel like a pilgrim going to worship at a shrine. Instead, I was put off by the awful sight lines. Approximately 80% of the seats are behind the baselines. I felt very distanced from the action.
I would like to nominate two other candidates for the West Region - 1) Harmon Gym (now called Newell Court or something like that). As a Stanford student, I hated playing Cal in this dump. The students and the band were right on top of the court. They heaped abuse on any opponent. But every seat felt like it was close to the action.
2) Long Beach Arena. Site of the spine-chilling Bo Kimble FT in 1990 in honor of his late teammate Hank Gathers. LMU subsequently blew out defending national champion Michigan in the next game. It's an old arena with great NCAA history.
^ You obviously don't know much about N.C. State fans. Reynolds is rocking for the heritage game every year, and that's usually played against NoName U. It would take very little for that place to be rocking for a game that actually mattered. Especially given the fact that N.C. State is on Tobacco Road. It aint known for its football if you catch my drift.
Vanderbilt's Historic Memorial Gym would be ideal for the tournament. It has a large seating capacity and in a great city. While in Nashville fans will want to continue the historic venue tour and see a show at the Ryman Auditorium.
I love the idea to have games at AFH and Municpal as it is in my part of town. In my life time I only see KU games and NBA exhibitions at AFH, I would love to see other college teams at AFH. I have seen NAIA, UMKC, and other games at the Mun.
btw for those don't know the new college basketball HOF and experience is going to be in KC, and maybe KC will get more Regionals at the new Sprint Center
Great idea! Lots of history and excitement in these old basketball shrines. You said something about Gallagher-Iba that made it seem you haven't been there- "I'm going to dock it authenticity points because its exterior has been completely overhauled". Actually, when the arena was expanded, the exterior was completely preserved, with a new larger building surrounding the 1938 original. The old exterior, architectural beauty intact, is now surrounded by a large concourse, including a sports museum. Come check it out!
I agree with the addition of Reynolds, and this is coming from a Tar Heels fan. But while we are digging back in history, can we change the atmosphere some? Like the old Cameron, back in the 80's was much better than the current overdone, unoriginal, non-basketball fans that inhabit it now.
Luke, great job including KC's Munipal Auditorium, but you need to include a picture of the interior to do it justice. The art deco inside is an unbelievable trip. We used to skip school in HS spending 18 hour days there watching the NAIA tournament.
This is really a great idea. Might I add Mackey Arena? Sure, it is not quite as old as some of the arenas mentioned, but has a lot of history, and wherever you sit in Mackey, you feel like you are next to the court.
I think this is a great article it shows you the simplicity and beauty of college basketball at its finest. These venues are some of the greatest in the country and as a college basketball fanatic they bring tears to my eyes. I am a season ticket holder for KU basketball games and have seen dozens of games in the MUNI (Municipal Auditorium) and as you walk in you can feel the tradition in both. If havent seen a game in either venues you are missing out. Im glad someone wrote an article about this amd id ;ike to see more like this.
Hinkle Fieldhouse is what basketball is all about. My high school played its semi state games there several times. Hoosier Hysteria at its best in that old barn. You can practically smell the sweat of the players, you are so close and I have never been in a gym that is louder and that includes Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena.
I agree with including Reynolds, a great arena with great history. However, in response to a couple reader comments it should be clarified that Cameron was designed and built in the 30's and opened in 1940, modeled after the Palestra, while Reynolds was not designed or built until the 40's and opened in 1949, which would seem to hint that it was modeled after Cameron, not the other way around.
Did you even read what you wrote about Allen Fieldhouse? Given the vertical elevations (basically the same number of rows/levels on all 4 sides) and the fact that sidelines are longer than the baselines...it is impossible that 80% of the seats are behind the baselines. It would actually be the other way around. I've been to Allen many times and I can tell you that your comment simply isn't true.
More likely it was just your perception because you had bad seats due to the fact that students and contributing alumni are given the prime seating. As such, any tickets, much less good ones are hard to obtain.
Great idea! Lots of great places listed. I'd add two that I haven't seen listed: (1) the MECCA (fka Milwaukee Arena) in Milwaukee -- Al McGuire made quite a bit of magic here. Wish Marquette still played there, as it was a pit for opponents. (2) Memorial Gym in Nashville -- the unusual configuration alone should merit a mention....
Great article. As a recent Maryland alumnus who experienced both Cole Field House and Comcast Center as the hoops arena, it goes without saying that Comcast does not even compare to Cole. There is a reason William P. Cole Jr. Student Activities Building was considered one of the toughest gyms in the nation for visiting teams.
A Final Four hosted at Cole, imo, would be unbelievable.
History..your story jog so many memories of my Father(83) who has visited eight of the auditoriums mention. He had the opportunity to work many NCAA Basketball tourneys as an Official. Back in the good old days!
Agreed on Vandy's Memorial Gym. It gets very loud because of the configuration, it's large, has among the best seat in all of college sports (beneath the court), and the unique configuration makes it a challenge for coaches and players. I like Rupp atmosphere, but let's be honest, it's a characterless building attached to a shopping mall. Unlike baseball, people don't revere basketball & football arenas, with a few exceptions of course. Memorial Gym at Vandy is one of the rare exceptions.
They play tourney games in Nashville . . . but because of whiney coaches, they play at the GEC downtown, not at Memorial.
I know we are talking about "Barns" here so maybe I am a little bit off, but if you are going to include MSG and Rupp, you need to include Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. It has played host before and would work out very well (no sponser in front of "Assembly"). As an IU grad though, I like Rupp as long as we get to play Duke and Kent St. there. Lastly, someone mentioned Mackey Arena, which leads me to think maybe a stipulation for this should be a modern era national championship.
The basketball history in Reynolds dwarfs that of Cameron so it's an insult to have Reynolds as the play-in game... ---------- Following Everett Case's insistence, the blueprints for Reynolds Coliseum were changed in 1948 to increase seating to surpass that of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was built in 1940. Reynolds opened December 2, 1949 as the largest college basketball facility in the Southeast, with a Wolfpack victory over Washington & Lee, 67-47. That same month, Reynolds hosted the inaugural Dixie Classic, which annually invited four of the nation's best programs to square off with The Big Four: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and NC State. The Dixie Classic quickly became the preeminent regular-season basketball tournament, including a 1958 field that featured eight All-Americans. Case led the Wolfpack to six consecutive Southern Conference Tournament Titles from 1947-1952 and four ACC Tournament titles before retiring in 1964.
Reynolds Coliseum is also where Everett Case started the college basketball tradition of cutting down the nets after a tournament championship. He brought that tradition with him from Indiana HS basketball.
Just a year or so before the men moved to the RBC there was a report that there still had been more paid admissions to basketball games in Reynolds than ANY other on campus gym in the country. All the home games, ACC tourneys and Dixie Classics meant there were a lot of games played there from the time it opened.
Leaving this off the list was an oversight of major proportions. It should be rated as one of the best if not THE VERY BEST of all time. This is why you are getting comments from so many fans. Everyone that knows anything about the ACC or bigtime college basketball history knows that this arena has a very rich basketball history that is without parallel.
Luke, WAY to give a shout-out to Rose Hill! I love college hoops, but I went to Fordham, who has a pretty crappy squad (better in recent years, but still not great) so this is the closest I'll ever get to an alma-mater mention on the blog. Thanks!
I can't believe the comment that says Cameron was designed after Reynolds. Has this person ever been to either Cameron or Reynolds? I am a Tar Heel and went to many games at both venures and other than being 20-some miles apart, they are not very similar. In addition, they were playing basketball at Cameron while the Reynolds architects were still in school.