Why Hosting First Round Games in Miami Hurt the NCAA Tournament

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIMarch 22, 2009

MIAMI - MARCH 20:  Forward J'Nathan Bullock #35 (R) of the Cleveland State University Vikings celebrates a 84-69 win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the American Airlines Arena on March 20, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images);  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

What were the NCAA Tournament's planning committees thinking when they arranged for Miami to host the first round of this year's men's basketball tournament?

Did they have some kind of inside information that the Florida Gators would be in this bracket?  Did they get it from Bernie Madoff?

Obviously they didn't understand the sports mentality in this town, especially its attitude toward college basketball.

The Associated Press reported Greg Shaheen, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball and Business Strategies, as saying, "We are normally at or near sellout in all of our sites."

This year, ticket sales fell from the 95 percent, Shaheen was talking about, to 85-90 percent.

Philadelphia, Kansas City, Portland, and Greensboro all sold out. 

In these locations, local favorites such as Villanova (Phil), Gonzaga (Port), UNC (Greens), and Oklahoma (KC) all helped. 

It's understandable how this year's economy could be responsible for this dip in attendance, but Miami's American Airlines Arena was only about half full. Shaheen said "close to 50 percent." The Miami Herald listed the number at 9,577.

The Herald went on to report "the other seven locations averaged 15,283."

Minneapolis was the other location to struggle significantly. They sold 12,814 tickets in an arena that holds 32,000. 

One of the reasons Miami's attendance suffered could have had to do with teams like Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah being so far away. But Syracuse is in this bracket and apparently all the ex-New Yorkers living here didn't show up either.

Greg Cote, long time reporter for the Miami Herald explained it like this: "A crowd of 10K for college basketball is unheard of here. The University of Miami(ACC Conference) can't fill up a tiny arena."

Another problem with scheduling any kind of event in Miami is the competition that is also scheduled for the month of March.

This month, Miami held the World Golf Championship at Doral, the World Baseball Classic, and the Sony Ericsson Open (the "fifth major on the tennis circuit) will be here next week.

The Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers are both in the midst of playoff races, the Miami Hurricanes play their annual spring game in March, and the Florida Derby is also scheduled for this month.

It's just not as easy to draw a big crowd at a basketball tournament with all these sporting events taking place. And don't forget, a lot of people don't want to be inside with the great weather this time of year.

Even though more people all around the country stayed home to watch this year's NCAA Tournament on TV, it appeared that the powers that be just didn't understand how hard it is to attract people to college basketball in South Florida.

If the NCAA Tournament ever comes back to Miami...it won't be soon!