Two weekends from now, Houston will host the biggest college basketball event of the year: the Final Four. While the games will be played at nearby NRG stadium, the home of the Houston Texans, Rice University will be one of three host schools for the Final Four. According to athletic director Joe Karlgaard, Rice is grateful to host the event.
“This event gives Rice some exposure, especially within the NCAA,” Karlgaard said. “I’m looking forward to showing off our campus and our facilities.”
The Final Four is the culmination of the 68-team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, commonly known as March Madness. The four teams that advance to the semifinals of the tournament, which currently has 16 teams remaining, will travel to Houston to vie for the national championship.
This will be the second time Rice has acted as a host of the Final Four in the past six years. As a host, the university is responsible for advertising events surrounding the Final Four, coordinating signage and hosting practices and meetings for participating teams. Basketball fans and media, however, will not be able to attend the practices on campus because they are closed to outsiders.
Despite the closed practices, Karlgaard said he does expect a bit more traffic than usual over the weekend of midterm recess.
“There might be some media trying to interview players and coaches after practices, but there should not be much more traffic on campus than there is during a typical baseball game,” Karlgaard said.
Rice will share hosting duties with the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. According to Karlgaard, these schools make good hosts because they are willing to promote the event and the city itself.
“All three schools have made a commitment to working closely with the NCAA to promote the events happening all weekend,” Karlgaard said. “We are working to coordinate signage and promote the [March Madness] Music Fest and children’s events [such as the Final Four Dribble.”
While the extra exposure for Rice within the NCAA is beneficial, Karlgaard said there have been unforeseeable benefits to hosting the Final Four as well.
“One of my favorite stories to tell is that when we last hosted this event in 2011, Virginia Commonwealth was playing here,” Karlgaard said. “At the time, [current Rice Head Coach] Mike Rhoades was coaching there. He got to see all of our facilities and what we had to offer, so when we eventually tried to hire him, he was familiar with the campus.”
The Final Four is not the only major sporting event that is approaching for the city of Houston. In February 2017, NRG Stadium will host Super Bowl LI, the NFL’s championship game. The first Super Bowl hosted by the city of Houston, Super Bowl VIII, was played in Rice Stadium. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is likely never to return to Rice’s campus.
Fans who wish to attend the Final Four will have to pay up. The cheapest seats available on the NCAA ticket exchange right now cost $159 each and are located in the highest deck of the stadium. For those who wish to watch the games instead, the semifinals will be broadcast on CBS on Saturday, April 2. The championship game will also be on CBS on Monday, April 4.