Men's Basketball

NCAA enjoys its return to Boise — and March Madness will be back in a few years

What Boise lacks in arena size it more than makes up for with its people.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said Saturday that the organization was pleased with the return of its signature event to Boise, where the NCAA Tournament was contested Thursday and Saturday for the first time in nine years.

The event is scheduled to come back to Taco Bell Arena in 2021.

“We love being in Boise,” Emmert said during a visit to the second-round games. “We’ve got some venues for these first rounds that are 20,000-ish (seats). That’s really great, but on the other hand having this compact arena with a lot of energy in it and filling it up is really fun. I don’t think it’s been a disadvantage so far.”

Boise hosted NCAA Tournament games for the ninth time, dating to 1983. The city was a consistent part of the rotation from 1989 through 2009 but didn’t get games again until improvements were made to the arena.

The six Boise games this year were sold out, with nearly 12,000 fans entering the building for each of the three two-game sessions. Unlike some NCAA venues, the arena was packed throughout each game.

The atmosphere was electric Saturday afternoon as the crowd tried, unsuccessfully, to propel underdog Buffalo past powerhouse Kentucky.

“If you want a packed house and a great environment for college basketball, it doesn’t get any better than this,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. “… As far back as I can remember, this place is packed for this thing and they look forward to it. It’s great for the teams because it’s an awesome college basketball environment. They don’t want to play in front of a bunch of empty seats. As long as (the NCAA) has that focus, why wouldn’t they want to come back?”

Boise State expects to make a profit from hosting the event, Apsey said. But running it is a major undertaking for his department.

Boise’s effort was recognized by several coaches, including longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who ended his press conference after a first-round loss with some kind words about the “absolutely sensational” hospitality.

“Boise has a lot of friendly people,” Buffalo junior guard CJ Massinburg said, “and it’s someplace I’ll definitely come back to. And I just want to say thank you to all the fans.”