March Sadness

Why Seattle can’t get any love from the NCAA.

By Matthew Halverson February 18, 2010 Published in the March 2010 issue of Seattle Met

SICK OF THROWING away 20 bones every year in your office’s March Madness pool? Here’s a wager you can’t lose: The NCAA men’s basketball tournament won’t visit Seattle anytime soon.

Between 1984 and 2004, Seattle hosted the hoops hype machine nine times, six of which came within a 10-year span. But in the last six years, the Seattle Sports Commission’s shots at bringing back the NCAA finals have hit nothing but air; with Seattle absent from the list of host sites scheduled through 2013, the soonest the NCAA could return is 2014. And of the 13 cities that joined Seattle in hosting games between the best college basketball teams in ’04, only Orlando has suffered through the same drought. (Then there’s this: Between 2004 and 2012, playoff rounds will have been played in Spokane, Portland, and Boise twice.)

When the Final Four came to Seattle in ’84, local sports-promoting legend Bob Walsh introduced madness to March by turning the once-sleepy tourney into the three-point circus it is today. (He spent an unprecedented $1 million on the event, which included a salmon bake and ferry rides around the Sound.) So how have we fallen so far out of favor? Blowing up the 40,000-plus seat Kingdome didn’t help—especially when it comes to hosting the Final Four—but we still have KeyArena. (Arenas need only hold 12,000 for early rounds of the tournament and the Key seats more than 17K.) Ralph Morton, executive director of the sports commission, blames the increased competition from other cities; more than 60 submitted bids for the next three years. An NCAA representative claims it’s prime-time TV scheduling that’s killing Seattle’s chances: Starting next year, only one city in the Pacific time zone can host per round. But Walsh, who has long since left sports promotion, hints at something more political. He still has friends within the NCAA, and he’s heard that the organization is “not anxious” to come back.

“I’ll tell you straight up what Bob won’t,” says Jim Weyermann, a former director of marketing for Seattle Center. When the city replaced Walsh with the Seattle–King County Sports and Events Council in 1989, Weyermann claims, it lost its direct conduit to the NCAA’s inner sanctum. “And at the end of the day, those guys who make the decisions are close to him and respect him,” he says. “And outsiders are just that: outsiders.”

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