STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Basketball Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Welcome to the NCAA Final Four in North Texas.
Enjoy the party and all the festivities in Dallas and in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square. But if you are going to the national semifinals Saturday or the championship game Monday night, those will be played about halfway between the two downtown areas.
The games are at the Dallas Cowboys’ billion-dollar showplace stadium, which is in Arlington — a growing city of about 375,000 people that is in the same county as Fort Worth — and not in the Big D.
“It’s always been kind of an ongoing saga about Cowboys Stadium, or AT&T Stadium, being in Dallas, and we kind of have worked on that pretty hard,” Robert Cluck, Arlington’s mayor since 2003, said with a chuckle. “When we first opened the stadium, you bet it bugged me. … I kept calling CBS, ABC and anybody who did it, and reminded them where it was, and pretty much now people know.”
Everybody should considering all the big events in that area just off Interstate 30, the busy road between the Dallas and Fort Worth downtowns that are about 35 miles apart.
The nearly 5-year-old stadium has already hosted a Super Bowl and an NBA All-Star Game. The first major college football championship game in the new postseason system will be played there in January, and the World Series has twice been at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark about a block away in the shadow of the Six Flags over Texas amusement park.
Arlington officials are well-versed in managing large events such as the Final Four, which is expected to have its highest attendance ever this weekend with about 80,000 people on both game days.
“Our police and fire (departments) understand how to handle crowds. They’re experts at it, and they know how to get people in and out of the stadium parking pretty easily,” Cluck said. “When we first started playing big games, I did worry about it. After I saw how skilled they were and how well trained they were, I just didn’t fear it anymore.”
Anyone who goes to the site of the previous Final Four in North Texas might find a Bruce Springsteen or Tim McGraw concert. But no basketball games, or even the arena where Louisville won the 1986 national title.
The lot where Reunion Arena stood in downtown Dallas is the site of the three-day March Madness Music Festival. The popular indoor interactive Bracket Town event will be at a nearby convention center.
Many Florida and Kentucky fans are already familiar with the game-day setup. And Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie also should know his way around since he was born in Dallas, and played 16 games for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks during the 1997-98 season when they called Reunion Arena home.
Florida, which plays UConn in the first national semifinal game Saturday, won a Sweet 16 game at the Cowboys’ stadium last year before its regional final loss to Michigan.
Kentucky, which takes on Wisconsin in the other semifinal, lost to Baylor in a regular-season game in December. There was a significant “Big Blue” crowd despite an ice storm in North Texas that weekend.
At least there are no worries this week about ice or snow, like then and what plagued the Super Bowl week three years ago. There also will be no seating fiasco, like the one at the Super Bowl that led to several lawsuits, since extra bleachers are not being crammed into every open space this time.
When visiting with Cluck a few months ago, Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, the chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee, asked the mayor if people thought the big stadium and the all the events were in Dallas. When Wellman said he knew it was Arlington, Cluck said he was picking up the lunch check.
“It’s a great market. First of all, it’s easily accessible, and people can get here easily,” Wellman said Wellman of North Texas. “You’ve got a great venue in this stadium and it is an area that has successfully hosted these types of events in the past. So I think you’re going to see this market used an awful lot in the future by the NCAA for these types of events.”
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