According to ESPN Men’s Basketball Tournament statistics, over the last decade, nearly 75 percent of teams that made the Final Four had a lower shooting percentage in their late round games than their overall tournament average. While this has not gone unnoticed by college coaches, it has not really been widely discussed in the sports media, either.
Many of the coaches that I have spoken with believe that a number of variables have attributed to this drop in shooting percentage, including the magnified pressure that these young athletes endure as the tournament heats up.
NCAA national championship and regional championship games are played on a much larger stage than these young athletes have ever experienced before. The venues in the NCAA tournament usually are significantly larger than the home courts of most teams, and the layouts of the courts are also visibly different.
Last year, USA Today reported that there was a considerable drop-off in scoring totals in games that were played in domes. This phenomenon has become known as "the dome effect." In fact, games played in domes resulted in scores up to 20 points lower than regular season averages and 14 points lower than early round NCAA tournament games. Lower shooting percentages have proven to be the norm in the Men’s Final Four games, which have been played in large venues since 1997.
The layouts in dome and stadium venues are indeed different. According to Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA Executive Vice President of Championships and Alliances, teams should try to get a feel for the arena, since it can and likely will affect shooting. Lighting and the backdrops can be different in stadiums than arenas. Furthermore, some professionals attribute poorer shooting to altered depth perception, as seating arrangements are different in big venues.
Further pressure comes from the increased size of the crowds that attend NCAA tournament games. Typically, attendance is 3-4 times greater in Final Four games than during the regular season and early round matchups. In fact, some stadiums can hold up to 75,000 people, and next year’s Final Four will be played at Cowboys Stadium, a massive venue that will likely shatter attendance records.
Combine the live attendance, high-volume noise (often manufactured by stadium sound systems), knowledge that millions of people are watching on TV and the 24/7 pre-game hype, and the result is added pressure on the athletes to perform. When one considers all of these elements, it is not surprising that shooting efficiency declines in large venues.
Despite winning the 2013 NCAA tournament, Louisville registered a much lower field goal shooting percentage in their regional game and tournament championship game than the team did in its previous contests. Furthermore, nine of the last 11 NCAA champions had a lower shooting percentage in the championship game (played in a stadium) than their overall tournament average.
The 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship featured dismal shooting between the UConn Huskies and Butler Bulldogs. Butler shot a dreadful 18.8% from the field, while Connecticut managed to shoot a paltry 34.5%. This game is now used as a case study by many experts who believe in "the dome effect."
The advantages of the dome for fans cannot be denied. Thousands of students, alumni and fans have the added opportunity to attend a once in a lifetime event, and the NCAA generates additional revenue from this added seating capacity.
As previously mentioned, the Final Four will be played at an even larger venue next year, Cowboys Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 80,000 fans plus general admission/standing room on the floor. The NCAA is taking every precaution necessary to preserve the purity of the game, but further investigation may be required to verify that any outside variables are not hurting the integrity of the game.