MINNEAPOLIS -- If being host to a Final Four invokes a measure of civic pride, fattens your wallet or gets you inside the building, enjoy it while it lasts.
This is likely to be the Metrodome's final Final Four.
The NCAA will keep coming back if it can, but a byproduct of the stadium drives and threats of departure (Vikings) and contraction (Twins) is the Metrodome's inevitable implosion. Any hope of getting another Final Four here probably will be blown up with it when it goes.
By the time the NCAA considers Final Four bids again, probably in 2003, the Metrodome's fate will be sealed. Bill Lester, who manages the building, said it will be around for a minimum of four to five more years, but not much beyond that without the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. The annual shortfall without them, he said, would be about $6 million.
The NCAA wants the Metrodome more than the Vikings, Twins or Gophers do. The organization has made a commitment to holding Final Fours in domes through 2007, but the rotation is getting thin.
There's Indianapolis, the NCAA's preferred site. The RCA Dome has an attached convention center, plenty of hotel space within walking distance and a great basketball atmosphere. The NCAA, which is based there, doesn't even have to get on a plane.
The fans' preferred site is New Orleans, where they play the blues and serve up hurricanes in tall glasses and jambalaya in big bowls.
San Antonio probably sits somewhere in-between. The Alamo and River Walk fill the void between games, and the place cares.
Atlanta and St. Louis are newcomers to the rotation, which lost Seattle when the Kingdome came down. NCAA officials predict Atlanta will provide an Indy-like performance next season.
There's also Tampa Bay, but only if the NCAA wasn't paying attention when the Final Four was held there in 1999. They put that dome in St. Petersburg, the hotels in Tampa and the traffic jams in-between. But, hey, it's a beautiful city for long, slow bus rides.
This will be my 11th Final Four, which I suppose qualifies me to be a judge. I even have a rating system for Final Four cities, based on three criteria: You should never have to get in a car; you should know you're at a Final Four; and you should want to come back.
San Antonio is a three-star Final Four city, in my book. Tampa Bay gets none.
I was covering Cactus League baseball when Minneapolis hosted the 1992 Final Four -- the end of the Metrodome's championship season that included the World Series and Super Bowl -- but I'm guessing our city will rate 1 1/2 to 2 stars. Maybe 1 if someone doesn't reach for the thermostat soon. An NCAA official described it as New Orleans without Bourbon Street, a sobering thought.
(My Final Four rating system holds greater credibility than my usual criteria for sports writers: Does the place have a hotel, a restaurant, a bar? Since sports writers aren't known for haunting theaters and museums, I contend that Boise is no different to us than Boston.)
The NCAA could return to conventional arenas when they accept bids again in 2003, but NCAA senior vice president Tom Jernstedt said that's unlikely.
The allotment for each school would be reduced from 4,500 to 1,500 if the game returned to 20,000-seat arenas. The under-30 graduate tends to get left out, and then the school tends to lose a future donor.
"The ticket problems you have are astronomical," Jernstedt said. "I've talked to athletic directors who said what should be one of the most positive experiences becomes one of the most negative."
Some other dome could come along to fill the void if the Metrodome eventually comes down. Phoenix has shown interest, but a basketball court would likely damage the natural grass grown under its retractable roof. Houston and Detroit are building domes that could be used.
Perhaps Minneapolis' next football stadium -- if there is another football stadium -- will have a retractable roof that will be basketball-friendly, but probably not in time to show the NCAA when it decides on future Final Fours, possibly through 2012.
This year's field includes as many as 16 future NBA first-rounders. The tournament is expected to pump about $30 million to $40 million into the local economy. Championship game tickets will become available as the losing teams leave town.
Enjoy it while it lasts.
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