Three months from now, Atlanta will be awash in Final Four festivities.
College basketball’s premier event will arrive April 4, when both semifinals will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, followed two nights later by the national championship game. It’ll be the fifth time in Atlanta for the men’s Final Four, and the hoopla this time will exceed the others as activities surrounding the event continue to grow.
Now that football season is over for all local teams, here’s an update on where Final Four preparations stand with three months to go:
FINE-TUNING AND FINALIZING
Plans are now being fine-tuned for Atlanta’s third sports mega-event in three years, the Final Four following the College Football Playoff Championship game in January 2018 and the Super Bowl in February 2019.
“I think we’re in a really good spot,” Carl Adkins, executive director of the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee, said Friday. “The NCAA feels very good about our planning and preparation and where we are with things. If they’re feeling good, I’m feeling good.”
Continuing a series of monthly site visits, NCAA officials and contractors will be back in Atlanta for three days of meetings in mid-January. An even larger group will convene here again in February as plans are finalized.
If you were successful in buying tickets through the NCAA’s random selection process, you received notification in August. If you’re still looking for tickets, you’ll probably have to go to the secondary, or resale, market.
That includes the official NCAA Final Four Ticket Exchange, where prices currently start at $195 for the semifinals and $185 for the championship game in the stadium’s upper-level corners. Prices rise sharply from there, up to $4,950 for some prime court-side seats.
Tickets also are available as part of hospitality or travel packages from NCAA partner PrimeSport.
TRANSFORMING THE BENZ
Over a two-week period from March 16-30, Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be transformed into a basketball venue for the first time. It will be no small undertaking.
“The planning for that is really down to the minute,” Adkins said. “It literally will go around the clock for those two weeks, with crews in there 24 hours a day.”
A massive portable seating system will be installed on top of much of the existing lower-level seating bowl, bringing fans closer to the court. A four-sided video board will be hung directly above the center of the court, the NCAA having decided not to rely exclusively on the stadium’s famous halo-shaped board. The wall of windows on the east end will be covered with a thick material, ensuring consistent interior lighting for the teams while branding the exterior of the building for the event. The basketball court will be installed in the center of the stadium.
NCAA officials believe this will be the first time the Final Four is played in a venue that has never hosted a basketball game before.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s seating capacity for the event will top 80,000, which could allow Atlanta to break the Final Four attendance record of 79,444 set at the 2014 semifinals in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.
The Final Four, like other marquee sports events, has grown well beyond the games. Among the ancillary events planned in downtown Atlanta:
- The Final Four Fan Fest, presented by Capital One, is expected to offer interactive games, celebrity appearances, autograph signings, opportunities to snap selfies with the national championship trophy, a rock climbing wall, etc. Fan Fest will be held April 3-6 inside the Georgia World Congress Center. Admission will be $10 at the door, with kids 12 and under and Capital One cardholders getting in free.
- Final Four Friday, on April 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will feature open practices by the four teams. Admission will be free.
- The March Madness Music Festival will be a series of free concerts April 3-5 in Centennial Olympic Park, culminating with a performance by Taylor Swift.
- Final Four Dribble will be an April 5 event for ages 18 and younger. Participants will parade through the heart of downtown, dribbling basketballs.
- The Divisions II and III men’s championship games will be played in State Farm Arena on April 5, with free admission. This will mark the second time the champions of all three NCAA divisions will be decided in the same city. The other time was 2013, also in Atlanta.
The NCAA and the local host committee have lined up about 2,500 volunteers to help with activities surrounding the Final Four, Adkins said. Training will be held in March.
The volunteers will serve in a variety of roles, including working at the ancillary events and assisting visitors at the airport and hotels.
AND FINALLY, WHO’LL PLAY HERE?
“It has been such a crazy basketball season so far, all these top teams getting knocked off, that I think that’s going to add a whole different level of buzz to things,” Adkins said.
Indeed, six different teams have been ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll already this season, suggesting a wide-open road to Atlanta. Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Kansas and Gonzaga have taken turns at No. 1.
The top four teams in this week’s AP poll, for whatever it’s worth at this point, are No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Oregon.
In the latest odds to win the championship, posted Friday by BetOnline, Kansas has the best chance at 8/1, followed by Duke, Gonzaga and Ohio State, all at 10/1.
The NCAA Tournament bracket of 68 teams will be unveiled March 15, Selection Sunday.
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