Mercedes-Benz Stadium has never hosted a basketball game, and the NCAA is comfortable with that remaining the case until the 2020 Final Four arrives in the building.
Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in Atlanta on Wednesday that the organization has no plans for a basketball game as a trial run in the stadium before the big event next April.
“We no longer require that,” Gavitt said.
In the past, there was a requirement that a venue host NCAA Tournament regional semifinals and finals one year before hosting the Final Four. But the NCAA abandoned that policy in 2013, preferring to play the regionals in smaller arenas than qualify as Final Four sites.
So now the NCAA tests its Final Four configuration in venues without necessarily having a basketball game played there, meaning the first hoops played in The Benz can be the national semifinals April 4, 2020.
“With our seating system, which is the biggest concern operationally in the buildings, we now have confidence that we can come in and do a mini-build, rather than a full build, of the seating system,” Gavitt said. “We can check how it will fit in and have confidence that it will work.”
For the Final Four, a portable seating system is erected on top of much of the stadium’s permanent lower-level seating bowl to improve sight-lines and push fans closer to the action.
U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, site of the Final Four earlier this month, hosted four college basketball games over two days in December, the only basketball games played there before the Final Four. But those December games weren’t much of a trial run because the stadium’s configuration was entirely different, with the court placed on one end.
“What is unique about the Final Four, since 2009, is that the court is put right in the middle of the stadium, whereas before that it was in an end-zone area,” Gavitt said. The change allows crowds of 70,000-plus.
When the Final Four was played in Atlanta in 2002 and 2007, the Georgia Dome was configured to seat about 53,000. The court was installed on one end of the stadium floor, and curtains closed off about 20,000 distant seats.
But starting with the 2009 Final Four in Detroit and continuing every year since, including the 2013 event at the Georgia Dome, the NCAA has used stadiums’ full capacities. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is expected to seat about 75,000 next April.
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