It’s just cliché enough to say “Things are bigger in Texas.” And it’s generally true. Bigger buildings, bigger roads (and lots of them), bigger traffic jams and certainly bigger aspirations. It’s not that bigger is better, but for their first time hosting the Final Four at ATT Stadium, the locals and the NCAA have decided to go big.
Having been here for the Super Bowl a couple of years ago I wasn’t totally shocked by the “bigness” of ATT Stadium in Arlington. It is massive. It’s a block away from where the Rangers play baseball and somehow it makes a Major League ballpark look small. It looks like it landed here to take over.
While the Final Four is huge and has gotten bigger in the past 10 years, it’s not the Super Bowl. No big international contingent, not many “Here because it’s happening” reporters. Most of the media is from the group that covers one of the four schools here (like us), from the local area (in this case Dallas (and most of Texas), student newspapers and electronic journalists from campus stations or from national publications.
When the Gators played in the 1994 Final Four at the Charlotte Coliseum, it felt like a basketball game. The arena was built for basketball and there was a quasi-intimate feel to the tournament. Bill Clinton attended as President to see Arkansas play and security was able to lock down every single person in the building while he was escorted to and from his seat. I don’t know if Barak Obama is planning on attending Saturday or Monday in Dallas but there’s no way security could ever bring things to a halt here. Way too big.
And that bigness has been an issue for teams in the past, moving from the confines of a gym atmosphere to a huge football facility where there’s no perspective or depth perception for anybody on the court. It takes some getting used to. As recently as 2009, the NCAA only allowed teams to have one shoot around the day before their game to get acclimated to the surroundings. Now, the teams arrive on Wednesday night for a full practice on Thursday, a shoot around on Friday and another Saturday before the game. Imagine shooting at a rim on a backboard in the middle of a vast field and that’s what it feels like at the Final Four. When Florida won their titles in Indianapolis and Atlanta, a huge drape was pulled across the middle of the football field; cutting the stadium in half and at least making it feel like a basketball court. No more. Imagine a 94-foot basketball court on the 50-yard line where the Jaguars play, and you get the picture. From the 35 to the 35 and only 50 feet wide (1/3 of a football field).
I’d include a picture of what it looks like at ATT Stadium but when I tried to snap a photo, I got a “NO!”
A really big “NO!” ‘Cause everything’s bigger in the Big D.