Screaming college students, high hopes and buzzer beaters all contribute to exciting March basketball, as the college basketball season culminates with the craziness that is March Madness. On March 8, both Whitworth basketball teams had their seasons end, with losses in the second round of their respective tournaments. There was one distinct similarity between both games — Whitworth had a disadvantage when playing at the other team’s home court. The Whitworth women lost to host Whitman, while the Whitworth men lost to host University of Texas-Dallas as fans rushed the court on a last-second buzzer beater.
You don’t need to know a lot about sports to surmise the distinct advantage that a home game provides, especially in a high-pressure situation like the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, there is no way that the NCAA could have neutral sites for Division III tournament games, chiefly due to a lack of large-scale media exposure — and in turn, a lack of funds — for Division III sports.
With 126 teams and around 20 people in each team’s traveling party, it would be extremely expensive for nearly every men’s and women’s team to travel to a neutral site. It cost approximately $1,000 each just for Spokane sports broadcaster Bob Castle and Steve Flegel, Whitworth’s sports information director and assistant athletic director, to travel and stay in Texas for the men’s tournament games, Flegel said in an email.
From a purely athletic standpoint, neutral sites would be ideal and much more fair. However, regardless of the financial burden that it would include, most Division III schools would not be willing to host games if they knew that their team wouldn’t be included, Flegel said in the email. Because of that, in order to ensure plenty of venues for the tournament, the NCAA has no choice but for teams in the tournament to be hosts.
On top of that, due to the small market for Division III sports, attendance at a neutral site would be an issue. For example, the attendance for the men’s game in Texas between Whitworth and Trinity (Texas) was 167 people, according to the official box score. The matchup between the hosting UT-Dallas and Chapman that followed had an attendance of more than 1,300 people, according to the UT-Dallas website.
Though it is difficult to admit on the heels of two tough road losses for the Pirates, it is simply unrealistic for NCAA Division III basketball to have neutral host sites. Despite drawing the short end of the stick this year, Whitworth hosted games just last season, and certainly felt the support from the home crowd. In all reality, unless something drastic changes for Division III NCAA sports, home-field advantage in the basketball tournaments will continue to be an inevitable part of the game for years to come.
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