NCAA tries new-look location, elevation of courts in Detroit, Houston

Updated: March 27, 2008, 8:54 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- Players and coaches alike talked Thursday about how they hadn't seen a setup quite like the one at Ford Field, site of the Midwest Regional.

There is a reason for that.

No one has seen anything like it.

The NCAA tournament is experimenting with a new-look configuration during the regionals in Detroit and Houston, putting the court on the 50-yard line of football stadiums instead of tucked toward one end.

The hardwood will be 27 inches off the ground and some players acknowledged some trepidation.

[+] EnlargeReliant Stadium
AP Photo/David J. PhillipStanford players climb the stairs onto the court at Reliant Stadium for Thursday's practice. The court is about two feet off the ground.

"What if we go for the loose ball and dive off the court?" Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds asked. "I mean, that's the thing I was scared about."

The raised court also creates a unique perspective for coaches, who will have the option of sitting on stools a few feet above their players.

"I like to coach sitting down," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But if you do that here, you're 15 feet away from the court."

The Final Four next week at San Antonio's Alamodome is expected to be the last one in which the court is near an end zone, with bleachers on one side and curtains cutting off some of the sections.

"It really opens up the whole stadium and makes it so much better for the fans," said Laing Kennedy, Kent State athletic director and a member of the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee. "Having the court elevated like that just makes for a terrific view from the upper level."

While the fans may enjoy it, some of the players were not too excited about the height of the court.

"I'm definitely not jumping in the stands," said Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis, which plays Michigan State on Friday night in Houston. "I'm not even going to act like it. If it's going out of bounds and I can't get it, hey I'm not going to fake hustle and act like I'm diving for it."

After the court was placed, officials decided to add a border of carpet around it to act as a buffer for players who do get caught up in hustling. It is 10 feet wide under each basket and five feet wide on the two other sides.

There is a curtain covering the north and south ends of the court, so seating is only on two sides of the playing area. That leaves a rather long blank space between the baskets and any wall or occupied area.

[+] EnlargeReliant Stadium
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAs part of a new-look configuration, the court for the NCAA regional games at Reliant Stadium, above, and Ford Field will be located at the 50-yard line.
"There's going to be an obvious depth perception [problem] just from the goals, but nothing you can't handle," said A.J. Abrams of Texas, which plays Stanford said. "Just go out and get a couple shots up and get the feel of it and that's what it's all about."

When the Motor City hosts the Final Four next year, the NCAA plans to use the same setup it is using Friday night when third-seeded Wisconsin plays 10th-seeded Davidson and No. 1 Kansas faces No. 12 Villanova.

In Houston, the curtains will be gone when it hosts the 2011 Final Four. Reliant Stadium officials are anticipating 60,000 fans over the course of two days this weekend, putting its crowds in the top five of regional sites.

Ford Field officials expect their paid attendance to surpass the 100,000 mark, a total that will exceed the regional-record crowd of 85,568 set in 1999 at St. Louis.

The home of the Detroit Lions, though, is not set up to break the basketball world-record crowd of 78,129 fans that watched Kentucky beat Michigan State in 2003. During that event, the field was filled with seats -- creating obstructed views -- and thousands of students were in standing-room only areas on the artificial turf.

NCAA officials expect the crowds at the four regional sites this season to break the previous record more than 20 percent, drawing a combined total of 250,000-plus fans.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press