Time to ditch the Metrodome as host for NCAA regionals

Matt Anderson

The setup wasn’t at all conducive for a basketball game.

At the NCAA men’s basketball Regional at the Metrodome, the court was built lengthwise from the end of one end zone to the 30-yard line.

A semicircle of stands that went 28 rows deep enclosed three-quarters of the court. Behind each basket fans sat in football seats, and the football seating on one side of the court was also in use.

Not exactly the typical fan-friendly basketball arena. Nor is it the most fair environment in which to decide a trip to the Final Four.

And why were fans subjected to this setup? So the NCAA could sell more tickets, because the Dome has such a large seating capacity. The 2001 national championship game at the Metrodome was seen in-person by a crowd of 45,994.

But the attendance for Friday night’s regional semifinal doubleheader was 22,293. For the regional final on Sunday the attendance was 21,613.

By contrast, the Target Center has a seating capacity of 19,006. And it’s designed specifically for basketball.

It’s one thing if the NCAA wants to have a Final Four in a dome, because for a Final Four, seating capacity is a huge consideration. Since moving exclusively to domed sites in 1997, each national championship game has drawn in excess of 40,000 fans.

At minimum, about twice the amount of people that would be able to fit into an arena built for basketball were crammed into domes for national championship games. That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is to sacrifice a good basketball environment and each team’s fair shake at a Final Four appearance to get an extra 3,000 fans into the building.

Domes are notoriously difficult on long-range shots, because the shooting background is different than in the basketball arenas teams play in the rest of the year. Domes also are windier than regular arenas, which can play havoc with shots taken 20-some feet from the basket.

It would then stand to reason that teams that rely on perimeter shooting are less likely to win games played in domes. This weekend proved that point.

Villanova, a team which deploys a four-guard starting lineup, used the three-point shot to great effect through the regular season, hitting 37.5 percent of its three-point field goal attempts on the way to earning the top-seed in the Minneapolis bracket.

However, at the Metrodome, the Wildcats’ perimeter jumpers weren’t finding the bottom of the net. Villanova was 4-of-19 from three in its overtime win against Boston College on Friday night, and hit only four of 23 three pointers in Sunday’s 75-62 regional final loss to Florida.

It wasn’t just Villanova that was cold from long-range at the Metrodome – Georgetown shot 5-for-21 from three in its regional semifinal loss to Florida; Boston College hit five of 19 threes against Villanova; Florida made four of 17 threes against the Wildcats on Sunday – but Villanova was affected disproportionately.

Each of the other teams in Minneapolis could rely on strong frontcourts to get easy shots from close range. But the Wildcats and their small lineup were more deep-shot oriented.

It wasn’t a problem when playing in arenas built for basketball. But in the cavernous Metrodome, it did pose a problem.

So next time an NCAA regional comes through town, the University should apply to have the event at the Target Center.

Maybe if they had this time, the Minneapolis bracket would be sending a different representative to the Final Four. But it definitely would have been a better experience for the fans.