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Houston in line to get more Final Fours after 2016: NCAA officials expect it to become a regular

Houston in line to get more Final Fours after 2016: NCAA officials expect it to become a regular

News_Bracket Town April 2011_boy
The success of Bracket Town meant almost as much to the NCAA as the success at Reliant Stadium. Photo by Bruce Bennett
Greg Shaheen
NCAA official Greg Shaheen praised Houston's Final Four efforts.
Kemba Walker Kentucky
Kemba Walker wasn't the only one who flew high at this Final Four. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
News_Bracket Town April 2011_boy
Greg Shaheen
Kemba Walker Kentucky

When even NCAA officials are making jokes about the lowest-scoring NCAA Championship Game since 1949, you know they had a good time in Houston.

That's what happens in the Final Four wrap-up press conference Tuesday. Greg Shaheen — the highest-ranking NCAA official in the room — opens his portion with a crack about the offensive woes Monday night.

Shaheen notes that if more people had the motor shown by Houston Final Four Local Organizing Committee interim executive director Doug Hall then "we might have had a game last night where both teams scored 60 points."

"You were on overdrive," Shaheen says to Hall.

Yes, there is a whole lot of love in the room when the Houston LOC and the NCAA meet for the last time before this 2011 Final Four becomes part of the record books — and thoughts begin to slowly turn to the 2016 Final Four that will be held in Houston and the 2015 regional at Reliant Stadium before that.

It does not figure to end in 2016 though. Shaheen — the NCAA's interim executive vice president of championships and alliances — tells CutureMap he expects there will be even more Final Fours in Houston in the future.

"I don't see any reason why Houston wouldn't become a regular part of our rotation," Shaheen says.

Shaheen would be the first to say that the NCAA's Basketball Committee will make the final call like usual on future sites, but he says the committee is thrilled with Houston's performance.

"This is what a showcase event should look like," Shaheen says of a Houston event that set the Final Four record for total attendance (145,747 at the two nights of games) and also drew an estimated 140,000 to the Big Dance Concert Series (the concert figure is based on an "approximation" of the number of people who came through Discovery Green during all three concerts that lasted several hours each) and another 49,000 to Bracket Town at the George R. Brown Convention Center. "This is what a national championship should feel like.

"It should be exhausting the next morning and be a seamless effort."

Later Shaheen quips, "UConn is not the only winner here."

Instead, Texas might be the biggest winner of all. For the Lone Star State has emerged as the NCAA's big event darling. Texas will host three Final Fours in a six-year stretch (Houston in 2011 and 2016, Dallas in 2014). And that type of dominance is not expected to end anytime soon either.

"In the modern era, for both the men's and women's championships, I don't know that any state has emerged like Texas," Shaheen says. "And I think you have to include San Antonio (host of the 1998, 2004 and 2008 Final Fours) in that equation as well. There are a lot of things Texas offers the championships that are unique."

Standing off to the side in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency — which served as the headquarters for the coaches convention during Final Four week, housing all the big names who weren't coaching in the games — Robert Dale Morgan is sure of what makes Houston such a lure.

Morgan, the president and executive director of the 2011 Houston Final Four LOC, held a similar position for Houston's 2004 Super Bowl and many credit his vision with helping the city see its big sports event potential, with a Super Bowl, Major League Baseball All-Star Game, NBA All-Star Game, Major League Soccer All-Star Game and now a Final Four all having been held here since 2004. Not that Morgan wants that recognition.

He chooses to sit in the crowd rather than on the stage at the wrap-up press conference. He probably could have blended in to, wearing a Houston Final Four hat with his suit, if so many people on the stage didn't point him out. Bob Beauchamp, chairman of the Houston Final Four LOC, calls Morgan, "the best in the business."

"Having six million people who care," Morgan says in explaining how Houston's positioned itself as the host city with the most. "Having a dozen Fortune 500 companies. And oh by the way, we have really great weather 300 days out of the year."

Trash Talk Between Friends

Houston hands off the Final Four to New Orleans, next year's host. The transition is a bit of intentional symbolism by the NCAA which wants to recognize how closely the two cities are linked and the Bayou City's role in helping after Hurricane Katrina.

This will be the fifth Final Four that New Orleans has hosted and the city's LOC executive director John Koerner can't help but point out to Houston, the new city in "the rotation," how great every one of the NCAA Championship Games held in the Big Easy has been.

"New Orleans has hosted some of the most memorable finals ever," Koerner says. "We had Michael Jordan's shot, Keith Smart's shot, Chris Webber's infamous timeout and Hakim Warrick's block at the buzzer."

And from its first Final Four, Houston has? Well, a whole lot of clangs — and Butler's record-low 18.8 percent shooting.

Not that anyone in the NCAA is holding it against the Bayou City. The organization credentialed 1,387 media members for this Final Four, loved the visibility brought about by having it in one of the America's biggest cities. Even if you have to wonder how much everyone was into it locally. The TV rating in Houston for the unsightly Butler-UConn national championship game only ranked 30th out of the 56 major media markets.

Shaheen's not dwelling on that. Instead, he's sticking around Houston to take in more of the city without the pressures of the mega event.

"I don't have a flight home," Shaheen says, knowing that Southwest Airlines' grounded jets have made it much harder than usual to land one last minute. "So I'll be staying here two, three, four, five more days. I may be looking to get an apartment and just become a resident."

Shaheen laughs. Who says NCAA suits don't have a sense of humor?

When they are happily in Houston, they sure do.