Brian Murphy: The NCAA Tournament has outgrown Boise

March 22, 2014 

— Basketball fans and bracket-crazed casual observers in the Treasure Valley watched on their television and computers, tablets and cellphones. The tournament can be found everywhere these days.

Except at Taco Bell Arena on Boise State's campus.

The venue once was a regular in the tournament rotation, hosting eight tournaments between 1983 and 2009. But its run is over.

The NCAA will announce sites for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 tournament in November. Boise won't be one of them.

Boise State, which hosts the event, opted not to bid for the future tournaments after failing to secure games for 2014 or 2015.

The NCAA cited the need for a major upgrade to Taco Bell Arena's lighting for television purposes and its overall capacity as issues.

Neither has been adjusted, prompting the school to stay out of the bidding process this time around.

When Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle took the job in 2011, the most frequent question he received was about getting the NCAA Tournament back in Boise.

Fans remember those games: Shaquille O'Neal's final collegiate game in 1992, Tyus Edney's last-second dash for UCLA in 1995, No. 15 Hampton's stunning upset and four games decided by seven total points in 2001.

And they turned out for them, filling the seats, unlike many of the venues.

Boise State isn't giving up on hosting in the future. The athletic department has plans for upgrading the arena, including a new video board and sound system.

"We'd love to host it again," Coyle told the Idaho Statesman earlier this month. "New boards, sound, lighting, that helps, and we want to be a part of it."

But there may be little Coyle, Boise State, Taco Bell Arena or the city can do to reel in an event that seems to have outgrown campus sites. Six of the eight sites hosting games this weekend seat 18,000 or more.

Taco Bell Arena's listed capacity is 12,240, but the actual number for an NCAA Tournament game is much less. Increased media seating, added buffer space between the benches and the stands and the space allocated to school bands reduce the seats that can be sold.

"I think we're just under the capacity requirements, and I've heard discussions they may lax it a little bit to where we could host again," Coyle said.

But there is more competition than ever. Boise fans aren't the only ones fond of hosting the tournament.

As more Western cities bid for games, the NCAA has more options for early-round games, including cities that used to host later games.

Seattle hosted regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games) and Final Fours throughout the 1980s and 1990s. But now it's an early-round site with games in 1999, 2004 and 2015.

Denver hosted a Final Four in 1990 and regionals in 1985, 1989 and 1996. But the last four times the tournament has gone to the Mile High City, it's been for early-round games (1999, 2004, 2008 and 2011).

And San Jose is the same way. It hosted regionals in 1997, 2002 and 2007, but in 2010 and 2013 it was a site for the first weekend.

It doesn't leave Boise with many great options.

Expanding Taco Bell Arena for the possibility of NCAA Tournament games every six or seven years isn't wise. The arena probably should have fewer seats with some of the second or third deck converted into higher-dollar club suites for Boise State basketball and concerts, but that's a topic for another day.

Today is another day for basketball, for Madness, for bracket-busting.

On your screen.

Just not in person.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph

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