It’s getting hard to remember the days when Final Fours weren’t confined to cavernous NFL stadiums. It’s been almost 20 years since the last non-dome Final Four (Continental Airlines Arena and East Rutherford, New Jersey, played host back in 1996), and the streak has also served to rob the two coasts of any national semifinal hosting duties. There had been recent discussion of bringing college basketball’s biggest stage back to NBA arenas, but Monday’s announcement of the finalists for the 2017-20 Final Fours revealed that shift won’t be occurring for at least another seven years, if at all. In theory, the practice of getting as many fans as possible to the event is a noble one – more eyeballs is better, after all – but the continued avoidance of the two coasts (you know, where there are like, a few kind of important cities) is a puzzling oversight by the NCAA. Even forgetting for a moment that nobody wants to visit Indianapolis in April, or that part of what makes college basketball unique is its geographic comprehensiveness, the NCAA’s shunning of east and west coast host sites puzzles on a purely financial level. The brightest spotlight – and relatedly, most money – is to be found in America’s signature cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, etc.), most of which can’t currently accommodate the NCAA’s 60,000 minimum seat requirement for a hosting facility. No worries if the host city rotation retains a heavy dose of domes, but NCAA, it makes too much sense (and cents) not to bring the Final Four back to the biggest population centers from time to time.
Forgetting practical reasons for a moment, the NCAA’s reluctance to bring the Final Four back to NBA arenas takes away from the ubiquity of the sport’s reach. Professional sports are confined to 40 or so major American cities; college football covers a little more ground, but there are still nine states without an FBS program. In college basketball, only Alaska lacks a D-I college basketball program, and every one of the 351 programs has a “neighbor” within a few hours of them. Hoops covers America unlike any other sport; the game is almost everywhere. Equally spreading Final Four sites around the entire nation is a quixotic notion, but the sizable gap in current coverage doesn’t jive with one of the sport’s most defining elements.