ATLANTA -- It's pretty quiet, relatively speaking. This town will be taking on a load as each day gets us closer to Saturday's national semifinals, but for now, most of the buzz literally emanates from the Georgia Dome which, in five days, will host its third Final Four.
I think I'm the only media member from outside the state of Georgia who's already here. And most fans won't get in until Friday. So with everything still coming together, I wanted to see how the room was coming along at the Georgia Dome. I hopped off my plane Monday afternoon, forgot my suit on the plane, walked out to baggage claim, realized I forgot my suit, had to go back through security, went back to gate B26, thankfully picked up my suit, caught a cab with a driver who suggested things to me not suited for publication on this blog, then checked into the hotel (the views from the 28th floor of the Marriott Marquis are gorgeous -- and terrifying) and immediately made my way over to the "end of the road," as the NCAA calls it.
Pretty rocking start.
What's it like for a building to actually host this thing? How many moving parts are there? Practically countless. But I wanted to know the logistics, so I went down there determined to find some answers. The great news: like New Orleans, it's walkable from the downtown/hotel area to the place where they'll play the games.
Most of the facts and figures below were given to me by L.J. Wright, the NCAA's director of this tournament.
As for the setup under that white tent of a roof, it's not just the NCAA doing all this, naturally. Right now, approximately 250 to 300 people are working to pull off this event. About a third of those are from the NCAA, which hires out other companies to help pull off its biggest event each year (the big college football bowls are not wielded by the NCAA). Sport Graphics handles all the designs for the court and the game tickets. They're already beginning brainstorming for next year's schemes. And this year there's a ribbon/banner displaying every team that's won a D-I men's title since '39 wrapped around the inside of the stadium. That's of course in honor of the 75th NCAA tournament.
A group named Populus handles most of the tedious logistics of signage and arrangement. By the time the NCAA gets here, Populus has handled much of the the smaller but essential things. As of Monday, about half the temporary seats in the lower area of the stadium still hadn't come in yet from Arlington, Texas, where they were for last weekend's regionals. Every seat should be accounted for by Tuesday night.
The court is in place, as you can see. That was shipped last Friday and installed over the weekend. It costs about $100,000, and the winner has the choice of keeping it. Michigan State still plays on the same (re-sanded, redesigned) court at Breslin as the one it won the 2000 championship on. Not all schools opt for that. If the winner declines, the Final Four teams then have a choice; that's not usually a keepsake worth forking over 100,000 bones for. If no one buys it from Connor Sport Court, it goes to auction.
New things with the court this year: 1) It's bigger in general. The dimensions are now 70 x 140 feet, whereas they used to be 60 x 120. 2) The basketball stanchions/supports are connected to 3,000-pound anchors that are below the court. That's never been done before. They're sturdier and a bit further removed from the baselines. It's a safety improvement all around.
Some more bullet points regarding the logistics of the event.
- There are 74,600 "viewable seats," which is actually about what the Mercedes-Benz Superdome held last year, though I have to say the Georgia Dome feels much, much more intimate than the Superdome or Cowboys Stadium.
- The video board is octagonal in design and when combined with all the audio equipment tethered about 150 feet up from the court, weighs approximately 155,000 pounds. It is 70 feet in diameter, or nearly the length of the distance between the rims.
- The NCAA will lay down 120,000 square feet of carpet inside the stadium.
- There are 18,218 temporary seats being added.
- The court is 29 inches off the ground.
If you're wondering why the court has to be raised, it's all about sight lines. A raised court means more seats closer to the floor, so more people can get in the building -- and see the action. Each year the NCAA takes about 10 submissions for court designs and votes on a favorite.
CBS Sports TV will arrive Tuesday to set up all of its cameras and wires and audio equipment. The NCAA's had the run of the place since March 1. The Georgia Dome wasn't especially busy as of late; it's most recent event was a super-cross dirt bike event.
The NCAA will have space on the floor for 700 students from the Final Four schools. They'll buy $40 tickets and be in the cordoned sections near the floor. The tickets are good for Saturday and Monday, provided their team makes it to the finals.
The greater Atlanta area offers up more than 10,000 hotel rooms that were reserved by the NCAA in concert with the event. The Division II and III basketball title games will be hosted this week as well (I love this idea), and it's happening for the first time at the same site as the big boy championship.
Remember, there's a whole bunch of (good!) music coming to the area as well, specifically for the Final Four. As of now, it looks like it's going to be a pretty good arrangement. To see the guts of an operation like this is pretty overwhelming, though. And yes, I asked about contingency, like a power outage similar to what we saw at the Super Bowl. Wright said there are a litany of backup plans in place, and that essentially it's all but guaranteed not to happen. Everyone's on heightened alert in the wake of the New Orleans embarrassment.