When March Madness rolls around, the NCAA falls in love with big football domes as venues for much of the basketball tournament. Yes, I know—it’s all about the money, tons of it generated by selling 40-50-60,000 tickets to a game normally played in front of 15-20,000. I get that.
The problem is, these domes are constructed for football, and their configurations for basketball are cavernous and awkward. As such, the outside shooting in almost all of these domed-stadium games is abysmal. This has been known, and been discussed at this time of year for a couple of decades by coaches, commentators, and players as the bigger arenas started to come into play in the Regionals and Final Fours.
(Note: the Carrier Dome in Syracuse was built for basketball as well as football, thus it is less than half the size of most football domes, and does not have the unwieldy background for shooters.)
There was one regional—the South—played in a dome this year. In the Sweet 16, at Houston’s NRG Stadium, which holds up to 80,000-plus for basketball, Gonzaga, UCLA, Utah, and Duke combined to clank nearly 80% of their 3-point attempts. UCLA, which has hit a 3-pointer in well over 500 consecutive games (about 17 full seasons) was 3 of 13, and none of those successes came until the game’s final minutes. Gonzaga doinked 16 of their 19 attempts, yet managed to win anyway.
The CBS/TBS crews at the stadium and in studio again mentioned the problem with shooting in a large stadium because it distorts the perspective these players are used to in every other game they play all year. The way the eye, brain, and muscle memory work together, depth perception is key to targeted activities.
The game becomes, in a way, a totally different game. It’s like playing outside in a large open field. Former Georgetown coach John Thompson was famous for saying that things were different “under the big top.” And they are.
In the second game Friday, Utah bricked 12 of their 16 attempts, while Duke was the night’s long range winner at 33%—but only on 3 of 9 shooting. The feel of the stadium backdrop was so out of kilter that Duke’s three best shooters on the season only attempted five shots between them—and missed all of them. None were even close. A hometown freshman went 3 for 4, else Duke would have goose-egged the trey.
Keep in mind, all four of these teams have a long tradition of successful 3-point shooting. Friday they were a combined 22.8% from behind the arc. In the Regional Final, Duke warmed to 8 of 19, but Gonzaga was poor again—going 2 for 10. For the entire regional, the teams—all good shooting teams—combined to brick more than 70% of their treys.
That’s painful to watch. March Madness shouldn’t be painful to watch.
This is adding to the mounting list of problems that seem to be plaguing the college game, most of which have to do with a lack of fluidity and poor offense. There are many reasons for this, and some will be hard to address, but these big domes are among them and the solution is easy. Just don’t schedule the NCAA Tournament in these stadia.
And the South Regional—the only one in a dome—predictably compared poorly with all other regionals, even though it had the best four teams combined collection of 3-point shooters. At the Staples Center, the West was won by Wisconsin. But all four teams combined to shoot over 40%, and winners shot 43%.
In the East Regional, played at the Carrier Dome (which as noted above, is configured specifically for basketball), the teams combined for 35% shooting, even though poor-shooting Louisville was in the mix in two of the three games.
In the Midwest Region, played at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the teams topped 30%, which was misleading. If you the out the un-competitive Kentucky West Virginia game, where no shots were meaningful, the field shot 34%, and the winners of the three games topped 40%.
It is pretty clear: games in the domes will be more defensively oriented because the outside shooting is simply more difficult without the normal backdrop perspective. This is just a fact, and its pretty clear to anyone who has shot in a dome before. These tournament games should move back into basketball arenas.
But wait. What about the revenue? What about tens of thousands of fans who won’t now be able to get tickets?
Uh, not really a problem. Friday there were less than 22,000 spectators at NRG Stadium. There were barely 20,000 on Sunday. So in addition to having a cavernous backdrop to the baskets from every angle, most of what was in the background were empty seats. And at NRG, the seats go up so gradually that even most of the full seats were a long long way from the court, and peeking over the shoulder of the person in front of you was a chore for spectators.
In other words, it was an awful atmosphere for players and spectators alike. It created a root canal of a TV show, too.
Besides, there are a handful of arenas in the Houston area that could easily handle a crowd of that size, and they are all real basketball arenas. This is true all over the country. And a little supply and demand pressure on tickets is not a bad thing.
And then there’s this: no sport should fundamentally change the game in their championship tournament. I understand that the big revenues allow the NCAA to disperse nice checks to all the participating schools, and many of the mid majors and others need this check to make budget. Contrary to popular belief, most schools lose money on athletics, so this is a good thing—especially to a Davidson or Georgia State.
But it’s hurting the game, both in person and on TV. And now we’re off to the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Consider: Five years ago, Duke and Butler—both outstanding shooting teams, combined to go 11-35 from behind the arc in the title game at this very same stadium. Duke was below even 30%…and they won! Prepare for some more clanking this weekend, probably from all four teams.
The author is contributor to Breitbart, American Thinker, Newsmax TV, Talk Radio Network, and author of WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again.