The Final Four Is Coming to Town

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John Royal
The NCAA is coming to town
The NCAA Final Four is coming to town in April. So get ready for the hype. Get ready for the out-of-towners bitching about what a crappy city Houston is. Get ready for complaints from people having to stay in hotels out in The Woodlands. And get ready for the light rail actually being used.

The three games that make up the Final Four weekend will be played in Reliant Stadium on Saturday, April 2, and Monday, April 4. The NCAA will be staging fan events at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Park starting on Thursday, April 1. And by the time Jim Nantz finishes with his sappy commentary and throws to the highlight package played over "One Shining Moment," the city will be sick and tired of everything associated with this game.

The NCAA plans to sit 76,500 fans for the championship game, and they're claiming that there should be at least 100,000 people coming from out of town for the event. The NCAA itself will be taking up 10,000 hotel rooms in the city, and they're estimating that they'll bring a minimum of $60 million to $70 million to the city.

"Whether or not you have a ticket to the game, there's a great deal to be able to take in and enjoy to be part of the Final Four," Greg Shaheen, an NCAA Senior Vice President, said yesterday at a media briefing. "Everything from free concerts as part of The Big Dance, to Bracket Town, which will be at the George R. Brown Convention Center Thursday through Sunday, where thousands will walk through and experience everything the Final Four is about, as well as intercollegiate athletics. Experience it on a number of different formats as everybody comes together. It's open to the public."

The Bracket Town event at the George R. Brown promises to be like the NFL Experience and the MLB All-Star Fan Fest. There will be autograph sessions with former NCAA players and coaches and displays from various NCAA championship events. If it really runs like the MLF All-Star Fan Fest, then there should be numerous memorabilia booths and longs lines for autographs. There should be small basketball courts for children to play on, and you will probably walk out having spent way too much money for stuff you didn't intend to buy and will probably never look at again.

The big events will be at Reliant Stadium, starting on the Friday night before the semifinals. In news that would probably cause Drayton McLane or Bob McNair to have a heart attack should this be an event of theirs, the NCAA is opening up Reliant Stadium on that Friday to any and all who want to come and watch the four teams practicing.

"On Friday of Final Four weekend, you will be able to come in, park for free, come in and enjoy the stadium exactly as it will be set up for the games and watch the Final Four teams practice," Shaheen said. "It's a special event that we bring together. The teams love it. We bring in bands, and it's a great, festive environment to really check out everything that will be part of Final Four weekend."

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John Royal
Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's Mr. Everything, says there will even be some free things
The basic arrangement inside Reliant Stadium should be the same as it was for the Regionals last March. The court will be raised in the center of the stadium. But there will be a lot more seating on the floor and end zones than there was last year.

"What we built last year was the majority of the setup, but not the full setup," Shaheen said. "The end zones, for example, end courts, are not built exactly as they were, will be, for the Final Four. We study everything about that. The angles, the measurement, the setup. Where the rails are for people to come down the stairs. How everything is labeled. We study all of that. That system actually builds up and over the lower bowl. Keep in mind, as well, that now, in our Final Four layout, we have thousands of students from the four schools who get to attend for ten dollars, and they'll be courtside, sitting, or standing as the case may be, cheering on their teams. We'll get to 76,000 easily. I'll say that's a conservative number."

As the first of April approaches, the city will get hit with a ton of hype. Hopefully the games will be good, but that's never something that can be guaranteed. Hopefully there will be a team with a tie to Houston or Texas, but that can't be guaranteed. About the only things that can be counted on are that the numbers regarding the economic impact will be overstated time and time again and that there probably will be about 76,500 people inside the stadium at tip-off.

And there's one other thing that can be guaranteed: If you really want a good view of the game, try watching it on your hi-def screen at home because your view inside the stadium is really going to suck.

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