Have you been wondering why Spokane, Wash., is hosting an NCAA regional? Two reasons:
1. A dearth of cities in the western part of the country capable or willing to host;
2. Spokane historically has supported the event well, although the Veterans Memorial Arena seats only 12,500, so it’s not like the 18,000-20,000 seat arenas which host many NCAA games. But Sp0kane has hosted in 2003, 2007, 2010 and now again in 2014.
Attendance has been a problem in recent years at many NCAA venues. Last season, attendance at games the first week were down significantly, including places like Salt Lake City and Lexington, Ky.
Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, chairman of the NCAA basketball committee, addressed those concerns the other day.
“There are many trends that we evaluate annually,” Wellman said. “We believe this year is going to be an attractive tournament and the tickets will eventually be sold out. We’re very encouraged by the ticket sales that have occurred thus far.
“There are a number of issues nationally that are going on that are affecting attendance of not only college athletics and college basketball, but other sports. Look at professional sports, they are being affected as well, with the options that fans have today to view games, whether it be big‑screen TVs or a number of other options probably, as well.
“But we are encouraged that this tournament is going to be a very attractive tournament to the fans. We’re doing our best and have done our best in previous years to place teams in a location where their fans can easily access those teams, get to the games.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the fans to follow their teams as deeply into the tournament as we can.”
The committee put a variety of top seeds close to home. Florida is playing in Orlando. UCLA is playing in San Diego. Syracuse is playing in Buffalo. Kansas is playing in St. Louis. Virginia and Duke are playing in Raleigh, N.C. Wisconsin and Michigan are playing in Milwaukee.
But the committee also placed some lower seeds in geographically-friendly venues. Baylor is playing in San Antonio. Kentucky and Kansas State are playing (each other) in St. Louis.
“The cities that we’re going to, have hosted NCAA tournament games in the past,” Wellman said. “San Antonio, of course, has been a tremendous venue for us and location. It is one of the sites that we are asked about most often when they do not have a tournament there. This is a very attractive site for us to return to. We think we’re going to do well there.
“Again, it depends upon to a certain extent the teams that are playing in that venue and how easily the fans can get to the tournament.
“We need to remember this is a national tournament and we try to assign the cities nationally. We want balance geographically. We’re going out West this year. We’re going to New York for the first time in many, many years; 53 years since we’ve been to New York.
“We are trying to look at locations that have been successful in the past, but also new locations that we believe will be successful currently. So that’s why you’re seeing some of the new cities appear as hosts for the tournament.”