The National Semifinals, the first of two legs of the NCAA tournament’s Final Four, brought 73,361 people to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. March 31. I had the privilege of being among this crowd, which was the second-largest ever for the National Semifinals.
As part of the NCAA’s student discount program for the Final Four, 710 tickets for the event were sold for $25 each to students from each institution whose basketball team was participating. As an Ohio State student, I took advantage of the opportunity to buy a ticket at a bargain price, and began planning a trip to New Orleans with a group of friends.
As a fan of college basketball, I have dreamed of going to the Final Four. That said, while attending the Final Four was a dream come true, the adventure of getting to New Orleans and getting into the game felt more like a nightmare.
The price of this ticket was a fantastic bargain, but attending the games in New Orleans required many additional costs and troubles. We departed Columbus to begin the trip of more than 900 miles to New Orleans on Friday afternoon, but did not arrive in New Orleans until about 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The travel time resulted in a sleepless night, but the NCAA’s horribly disorganized ticket process made the situation even more stressful.
Although 710 student tickets were sold to each university, only the first 355 to enter the arena received floor level seats, while the second half of students to arrive received seats in the upper level. Knowing that students would be waiting in line early in order to assure seats on the floor level, we proceeded immediately to the Superdome.
When we arrived, we took our places in line and were greeted by a horribly disorganized process. The students were directed to wait in line inside of the stadium parking garage, but were later forced out of the garage. This resulted in a mass exodus of students sprinting from the garage and spilling onto the streets, an episode in which multiple students were trampled. Just minutes after being forced out of the garage, the mass of students sprinted furiously back into the garage, trying to secure the best possible place in line.
The reasoning behind this series of events was never cleared up. Event security and the NCAA officials on hand did more yelling at students than explaining the situation, which left students angry. After being forced to wait in an initial line to have our student IDs and credit cards verified, we were expected to wait in another line until the gates finally opened at 3:00 p.m. In that line, the same verification process occurred, making the function of the first line little more than keeping people waiting in a garage for hours rather than sleeping or touring New Orleans.
We at least expected our sacrificed time to result in a great view of the game from our courtside seats, but this was also misleading. The basketball court was raised off the stadium floor, while the seats were directly on the floor and not elevated. As a result, the view of the game was obstructed by the people surrounding the court, the band and the fans standing in front. We had the experience of being a part of the game atmosphere, but ended up watching the game primarily on the large monitor on the scoreboard above the court.
The exhaustion that resulted from the combination of sleep deprivation and waiting in unnecessary lines, along with the poor view of the court, negatively affected the experience. That said, sitting courtside at the Final Four is a situation that college basketball fans dream of, and I am now among those who have been fortunate to have experienced that thrill, although the loss to Kansas that night was disappointing for OSU fans.
All things considered, going to the Final Four was a special and unforgettable experience, and I have no regrets about going. However, I hope that if the NCAA continues its program of offering discounted tickets to students of participating universities, it will work with the venues who host future Final Fours to set up a smoother process for distributing tickets, and better accommodate the students who sacrifice their time and money to attend.