Dear NCAA: For the Love of God, Please, No More Basketball Games at NRG Stadium

This is the view from the NRG Stadium stands for Sunday's game. Yes, tickets were sold for these seats.
This is the view from the NRG Stadium stands for Sunday's game. Yes, tickets were sold for these seats.
John Royal

Basketball in football stadiums suck, especially NCAA tournament games. The depth perception is thrown off, no matter where the giant black curtains are hung. Fans pay high prices to sit in lousy seats with horrible views of the game. It's a lousy experience for all involved. So let's just stop playing basketball in domed football stadiums.

The basketball played in the NCAA South Regional at NRG Stadium this weekend was horrendous. Many three pointers were shot, but very few were made. Duke shot over 40 percent in defeating Utah 63-57 Friday night. Gonzaga shot 44 percent in its 66-52 loss to Duke yesterday (the Duke win sends the Blue Devils to the Final Four for the 12th time under head coach Mike Krzyzewski), and Gonzaga made 40.3 percent of its shots in defeating UCLA 74-62 on Friday. But no team came close to making half its shots, and UCLA and Utah were lucky to hit on 30-plus percent of their shots on Friday night.

The players refused to blame stadium conditions this weekend. Players from Utah, UCLA, Duke, and Gonzaga were all quick to note that the godawful depth perception had nothing to do with their inability to hit shots they'd normally make in their sleep -- these were all some good shooting teams with skilled three point shooters. But as Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak noted after his team's loss on Friday night, in no other NCAA tournament site did the players have to deal with the conditions seen in Houston.

"It's an interesting environment," Krystkowiak said. "It's not a basketball arena. It's the only regional that's played in a venue like this. Everybody else is a normal-sized arena. It's not (just) our issue. It's Duke's issue as well as everybody else. It had a lot more to do with our mindset and turnovers. That probably sealed our fate more than anything."

It wasn't just the games played this weekend. Some of the worst basketball ever played in a NCAA Tournament occurred in the 2011 Final Four that was also played at NRG Stadium. Who else remembers the inability of any team to make shots in that UConn/Butler final? Or go back to 2010 where teams also had difficulties hitting the mid-30-percent number for made shots. People may talk about the outstanding defense, but most misses came from open shots with good looks that were missed because teams were playing on a raised basketball court in the middle of a football stadium with stands set far back.  

Here's the court view from up close, the depth perception is all out of whack
Here's the court view from up close, the depth perception is all out of whack
John Royal

The NCAA will say that it plays these games in a football stadium for the fans because it allows more people to attend the games. But fans are far, far away from the action and more often rely on the video boards to watch what's actually going on on the court because it's just too hard to tell what's happening. And with tickets for Friday's nights game being sold by the NCAA at a cheapest price of 95 dollars, one has to wonder just who exactly the NCAA thinks is buying the tickets to come to a football stadium to watch awful basketball off of a video board because it's hard to make out the action on the court.

And apparently the people of the Houston area weren't really that keen on watching this brand of basketball. Only 21,168 attended the Friday games between Gonzaga and UCLA and between Duke and Utah, and yesterday's regional final between Gonzaga and Duke, the game that determined which team advanced the Final Four, only 20,744 were in the building. That was down considerably from attendance for the 2010 regional where 45,505 attended the Friday night games featuring Duke and Baylor playing, and also down from the 2008 regionals where 32,931 attended the first night of games and 32,978 attended a regional final game featuring Texas.

"It's tough being out there on a court where there's so much room behind the basket," said Utah's Brekkott Chapman, Friday night. "But it's something that you got to adjust to quickly if you want to succeed in this."

But that's just the thing. A player shouldn't have to worry about adjusting to a court when he's playing in the NCAA Tournament. It's not fair to the players, and it's not fair to fans, to make a basketball player used to playing in a basketball arena to have to learn how to play in a football stadium on the fly. If the NCAA was really all about the student-athlete, as it claims so often to be, then these lousy games would not happen.

Next year's Final Four returns to Houston for a return engagement at NRG Stadium. It's not too late to make this not happen. It's obvious from the attendance numbers that fans don't like the place for basketball, and it's also obvious, from the basketball that's been played, that it's a really crappy place to play the game. So it's a good thing there's a nice-sized basketball arena located in downtown Houston. It's home to a professional NBA team, and the arena was built to house a basketball team. So how about it, NCAA? Enough with the damn football stadiums. Let's play a Final Four in a basketball arena. It'll be better for the fans, it'll be better for the players, it'll be better for the game.


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