Record Final Four crowd was even bigger than it seemed

By Kyle Porter

AT&T Stadium housed many, many people for this year's national semifinal. (Getty Images)
AT&T Stadium housed many, many people for this year's national semifinal (Getty Images)

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- I have a confession to make, is this a safe place for that?

I weaved my way in and out of a swath of fans and media types on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, most of whom couldn't stop complaining about playing the three most important basketball games of the season in a football stadium.

"It's too far away."

"I can't see."

"It's a cavern in here!"

All fair qualms. Issues that aren't new but get tiring to hear.

My confession, though? I kind of liked the basketball court in the middle of the football and all the pageantary that came with it.

Sure, would I rather play the Final Four at Allen Fieldhouse and infuse the businesses of Lawrence, Kan. with the millions of dollars absorbed by Dallas and Arlington, excuse me, "North Texas"?

Yes, I would.

But Julius Randle has a better chance of going undrafted than the Final Four does of moving away from an arena in which the NCAA can maximize its revenue stream.

The problem with playing the Final Four in a football arena isn't necessarily the sightline, though that's unnerving at first, but rather the corporate crowd that's split five ways -- the four teams' fans and a bunch of folks who just want to be seen hobnobbing at the sporting event dujour.

A full stadium of your own fans in an arena like this watching hoops? I'd be all in on that. The split crowd exacerbates an already-stark problem.

The strangest thing is the student section which gets jammed directly behind the buckets (in this case, in the end zones of AT&T Stadium) -- it makes the kids look like pixelated extras in one of those NCAA March Madness games.

Of course all of this is a Big Event sports issue, though, and not a Final Four specific one.

But enough about the corporatization of one of the greatest events in the world -- we have Chris Webber Burger King commercials to provide us metaphors for days on that front.

This Final Four felt big and not because it was in Texas. Not because more people attended (79,444) than have ever attended a college basketball game in history, either.

It felt big because the games were electric and the crowd was larger than life.

Really, it was.

There's Wisconsin alum (kind of) Russell Wilson walking past me in a blue (??) shirt looking very Russell Wilson-y. There he is throwing up the two-handed "W" with JJ Watt who is literally larger than life.

Russell Wilson was in the Wisconsin section. (Getty Images)
Russell Wilson was in the Wisconsin section. (Getty Images)

There was Daughtry telling his handlers backstage that no, he does not, in fact, drink Dasani water. He drinks Deja Blue water and he wants some right now.

He was on a plane by the first TV timeout in the first game.

Thankfully.

There was Dwight Howard taking a selfie with a University of Kentucky band member and oh my gosh Dwight Howard took a selfie with a tuba player from Kentucky and I don't think it was ironic.

Chandler Parsons was with him and was balancing approximately an east end zone's worth of females wanting to, I guess, touch him and tweet about how they touched Chandler Parsons. All of this while Howard had his head in a tuba.

Chandler Parsons was also in orange and blue dress shows. Wingtips. I get the girls thing now.

There was Shabazz Napier walking back to his locker room complaining that he wasn't getting AT&T service on his phone in AT&T Stadium.

He has a point.

That's probably also, like, 22 NCAA violations just for saying that.

There was Eddie Sutton in Jerry Jones' luxury box talking to Jason Garrett because when college hoops is being played at AT&T Stadium, Eddie Sutton is royalty.

At the end of the Kentucky-Wisconsin game I sneaked down to the floor and watched Montee Ball -- yes that Montee Ball -- in a frog costume trying to make his way into the Wisconsin student section. The NCAA said no dice.

Of course they did.

There was Drake and his bestie, Johnny Football -- I presume they are riding Kentucky. Or Connecticut if they win on Monday.

Either way, I'm not sure how much bigger (or better) this tournament can get.

And finally, there was an empty stadium late into the evening, emerging from the waters of her baptismal Final Four waters.

She looked ready for another go at it -- to see if Saturday can be topped on Monday.

I know we're all ready to find out.

 
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