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NCAA chief and far-away fans love Jerry World's giant TV; some knock Houston's own Final Four setup

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Final Four at AT&T Stadium
AT&T Stadium broke the Final Four attendance record with more than 79,000 fans. Photo by Claire St. Amant
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
2014 marks AT&T Stadium's first Final Four but probably not its last. AT&T Stadium/Facebook
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
AT&T Stadium went through quite a transformation from football to basketball. AT&T Stadium/Facebook
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
Stadium officials survey the Final Four finishing touches on AT&T Stadium. AT&T Stadium/Facebook
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
Final Four at AT&T Stadium
Claire St. Amant headshot

ARLINGTON — The nets haven't even been cut down for the first time at AT&T Stadium, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is already lobbying for the 2017 Final Four to come to Dallas — or rather, Arlington.

North Texas is one of eight finalists to host the men's Final Four between 2017 and 2020, along with Atlanta, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Antonio and St. Louis.

You'd think it would be a tough sell to put a basketball tournament in a cavernous football stadium in a city with no public transportation or walkable entertainment district, but apparently the NCAA doesn't mind. NCAA president Mark Emmert heaped praise on AT&T Stadium in Arlington during a Sunday press conference.

 AT&T Stadium's binocular rental booth doesn't exactly scream "fan-first experience," but it does create another revenue stream.

"There’s no better stadium, probably, in the country than this one," Emmert said. "If you’re going to have games like this in big stadiums, they’ve got to be really good facilities or it just doesn’t work. This one works pretty darn well."

Translation: Have you seen the big screen TV? As mesmerized as Emmert seems, the fan reaction has been mixed.

"The organization of the stadium is kind of terrible," University of Kentucky freshman Ashley Johnson says. Sitting in the student section on the floor, Johnson still couldn't see anything because the court is elevated.

She says she spent the whole game craning her neck to look at the big screen. "It was cool to be that close but it's not worth it." It bears mentioning that Johnson paid just $40 for her two-day ticket package.

For fans in the upper levels, catching a view of the action proved difficult for a different reason. "The players look like ants," says Jane Teague. AT&T Stadium's binocular rental booth doesn't exactly scream "fan-first experience," but it does create another revenue stream.

Jane and her husband, Steve, came to the Final Four from North Carolina. The couple was in good spirits, despite more than a few criticisms of the stadium. 

"Your stadium can hold 80,000 people but it still only has two shot clocks," Jane says disapprovingly. 

 When the final buzzer sounds, it's basically a free-for-all to get the heck out of Arlington.

Steve found fault with the giant TV screen's shot selection. "They would show replays when live action was going on, and we'd miss the play," he says. "That really needs to be addressed." 

It's the Teague's third time attending a Final Four, and they rank Dallas second — behind New Orleans, but head and shoulders above Houston. 

"This is a thousand times better than Houston. The stadium is light. It's open. It's airy, and believe it or not, the traffic is even better," the couple says. Of course, Jane adds that she wished she knew ahead of time about needing $50 cash to pay for parking. 

Arlington's lack of public transportation infrastructure means fans can either sit in traffic on a shuttle bus or sit in traffic in their own car and pay up to $90 to park. And when the final buzzer sounds, it's basically a free-for-all to get the heck out of Arlington.

Scott and Livia Hostetler of Atlanta were disappointed in the area's restaurant selection. "It's a little odd because you'd think there'd be more options for food outside the stadium," Scott says. 

After Saturday's semifinal games, gridlock traffic blocked the access roads to the highway for hours. The vehicular congestion was compounded by clueless fans who wandered through traffic on foot, perhaps looking for nonexistent food and entertainment options.

Ironically, had AT&T Stadium been built in virtually any other city in North Texas, there would be public transportation. In addition to Dallas, DART connects a dozen North Texas cities, many with high speed rail.

But logic be dammed, Jerry Jones does what he wants. And when you provide a TV the size of Texas, not many people seem to care about anything else.

"We've been trying to describe the screen to people back home, but we can't do it justice," Washington D.C. resident Jordan Davis says. "You have to see it to believe it."

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