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SMG operations worker Michael Stauffacher helped install the official 2019 NCAA Final Four basketball court Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

SMG operations worker Michael Stauffacher helped install the official 2019 NCAA Final Four basketball court Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

From the rear of Section 348 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, several stories above the court and far, far away from the action, college basketball's biggest stage could not look smaller.

More than 70,000 people will attend the men's Final Four on Saturday at the home of the NFL's Vikings, the court at midfield resembling a postage stamp for some who have paid, at minimum, hundreds of dollars to get in.

The fact so many people will pay so much to see so little from so far away is why the NCAA Division I men's basketball semifinals and title game haven't been played in an actual basketball arena since 1996.

It's why the best Chicago's United Center (capacity of at least 23,129 with standing room) can hope for is to host the Midwest Region semifinals and final, as it did in 2016 and will again in 2022.

Yes, this year's regional finals - played at Anaheim's Honda Center, Louisville's KFC Yum! Center, Kansas City's Sprint Center and Washington's Capital One Arena - rocked in standard basketball/hockey arenas.

That's just not how the NCAA rolls at Final Four time.

Unless Chicago builds a megadome, the sort of venue it would need to host a Super Bowl, the NCAA isn't going to look up from counting its Final Four money.

Meanwhile, the NFL Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home to NCAA headquarters, will be getting the Final Four every five or six years.

"Think how many people are trying to get in just to see it that don't care if they have the greatest view in the world," veteran CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz said during a conference call this week in response to my question about the new NCAA normal of ginormous venues.

"They don't care if they're in the upper-deck corner. They want to be able to say they went to the Final Four, and we haven't lost anything in terms of ambience."

It has been 10 years since the NCAA moved the Final Four's court to the center of these enormodomes.

Before that, when the national semifinals and final were played in these sorts of venues, the court essentially was set up in an end zone, often with some seating sections blocked by a curtain, to bring at least some fans something resembling a normal game experience.

But it was only an illusion, and beginning in 2009 at Detroit's Ford Field, home of the NFL's Lions, the NCAA figured, why bother? Might as well pack the joint.

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Fans tired of squinting can always watch the action on the video screens.

"I don't think the crowd noise is lost, for as vast as these buildings are," said Nantz, who said he was initially skeptical about the change. "I mean, you are talking about 70,000 people in attendance.

"So we haven't lost anything in terms of that atmosphere. The biggest complication has been the adjustment to being able to play in a building that's so vast ... for these guys who are trying to get their sightlines down."

The low point, he noted, was probably the 2011 Final Four at Reliant Stadium in Houston, the home of the NFL's Texans.

Connecticut beat Butler 53-41 for the title. The Huskies shot 34.5 percent from the field. The Bulldogs were an even uglier 18.8 percent.

"For some reason, that's gone away in recent years," Nantz said. "I don't know what tweaks or adjustments they've made with the baskets or the background or the backdrop."

CBS analyst Bill Raftery, who, like Nantz, sits courtside no matter the venue, said today's college players are "so comfortable at this point in the year" that the basketball-in-a-football-stadium thing isn't a factor.

"I don't think it encumbers them whatsoever," Raftery said. "They'll get a couple of practice days. ... These kids can acclimate themselves easily."

As for the fans, well ...

"The NCAA has done a great job in making it as intimate as possible," he said - "as possible" being the critical qualifier. "I know some of those people that sit way up top wouldn't agree with me."

But they're so far away, who would hear them if they complained?

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