On Monday evening I was watching Comcast Sportsnet when the studio host announced that some tickets to the NCAA Men's Basketball 1st and 2nd round games at the Wachovia Center had just been made available. Now, I'm not a major basketball fan and am by no means an expert, but seeing the tournament unfold year after year on TV I hoped for a chance to be there in person. As I was online while the TV was on in the background, I quickly went to the website and made a purchase.
I found it kind of odd. I enjoyed it, and I'm not giving up my ticket for tomorrow's second-round doubleheader, but I'm not sure it's something I necessarily have to experience again.
When an event is held at a larger, modern arena such as the Wachovia Center, it loses some of the intimacy, the closeness you get when you're in a smaller place. This past November I got to see some basketball at the Palestra for the first time, and the atmosphere was completely different, even though those games weren't nearly as important. Perhaps I'd have felt differently if I weren't in section 215, row 10 yesterday, but I doubt it. There were two rows of tables (for excess media, I suppose) on the side of the court behind the team benches, where normally you find courtside seating. The first rows of seats yesterday (other than those under the baskets) were behind the hockey boards.
I also couldn't help but notice that a lot of fans of the participating schools didn't bother sitting through the games that didn't involve their team. Yesterday's afternoon session started with Texas A&M and Brigham Young. A&M jumped out to a 24-8 lead and rolled to a relatively easy win as BYU never got closer than eight. The building was half-empty at the start of the game and while it gradually filled up somewhat as the afternoon went on, there were still a lot of empty seats. When no. 1 seed Connecticut went on a 31-5 run in the last 10 minutes of the first half to take a 48-20 halftime lead over Chattanooga, I saw a stream of fans leaving the building. When UConn then scored the first 15 points after the half to expand their lead to 43, I took off as well. This gave me plenty of time to get some food and not pay the prices you find at the concession stands.
Speaking of concessions, some guys who briefly sat behind me were outraged to find that there were no beer sales allowed. Apparently this is an NCAA rule of some kind. Why it isn't applied to all NCAA events I don't know. I've been to other college games where beer was sold. It's not like the arena was filled with students yesterday. The cost of tickets and travel cuts down on college kids' ability to go to the games, especially compared to when a game is held on campus.
One thing that was also intriguing was that in the seating areas, no corporate advertising was allowed. Every sign was covered (except for the Wachovia Center name on the floor and the top of the scoreboard), and no ads ran on the electronic message boards. Again, why is this done during the tournament and not during the regular season?
The evening session provided the most intrigue on the court. Despite being on their home-away-from-home court, 3-seed Villanova found themselves down 14 early in the second half against American, thanks to American's 3-point shooting and Nova's turnovers. The Wildcats turned the tide with defensive pressure and by taking the ball to the basket, drawing fouls (Nova took 26 free throws in the second half after getting only 3 in the first half). In the nightcap, UCLA held on at the end to edge VCU, but I missed the finish of that game. The house was almost (but not quite completely) full when the Nova fans packed the house, but after the first game many of them left, and eventually, needing to make sure I could catch a train home, so did I.