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Not Even San Diego State’s Thriller Over (Ahem) Florida Atlantic Can Save This Final Four From Disaster

Since CBS and Turner pay around $1 billion per year for March Madness to live up to its name, this pleased the bosses for both of those TV outfits — you know, theoretically.

The first semifinal game Saturday night of the 2023 Final Four in Houston at NRG Stadium evolved into a classic.

The place was stuffed. To make sure, I walked around the upper reaches of what normally is the NFL home for the Houston Texans. Empty sections didn’t exist. Consider, too, I’ve covered Final Fours fairly often since the mid-1990s, and the decibel levels for this one were as high as many of those other ones, especially after San Diego State overcame a 14-point deficit in dramatic fashion.

Oh, and the Butler did it.

Lamont Butler, to be exact.

With San Diego State (wait, who? We’ll get to that) trailing the Owls of Florida Atlantic (not the University of Florida, Florida State or even South Florida or Central Florida, but Florida Atlantic) by a point in the last seconds, Butler sank a mid-range jumper at the buzzer for a 72-71 victory.

Not that many folks cared.

Much of the planet prefers Final Fours with teams you can root strongly for or against due to name recognition.

San Diego State? Florida Atlantic?

Not so much.

The same goes for Miami (Florida) in basketball. The hoops version of the Hurricanes isn’t as noted as its football counterparts, mostly of Bad Boy fame from the previous century. That hoops version faced UConn in Saturday night’s other semifinal game, and it was clobbered during a 72-59 mismatch.

Speaking of UConn, yeah, the Huskies have been dominant throughout this NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but after they won it all in 2014, they had captured only one game during March Madness before this spring.

So it wasn’t surprising Houston television station KHOU determined this was the cheapest Final Four to attend in more than a decade.

TicketIQ founder and CEO Jesse Lawrence told the station earlier this week: “Prices have dropped about half, and you can get into either of the semis or the finals individually under 60 bucks.”

Which was down nearly 20 percent from last year’s most economical ticket for the Final Four in New Orleans with North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and Villanova, all owners of multiple national titles. Which makes you understand why such a plunge in ticket prices this year had something to do with most folks not having a clue, for instance, where Florida Atlantic is located.

It’s in Boca Raton. That’s opposed to Lawrence, Kansas or Philadelphia or someplace along Tobacco Road such as Durham or Chapel Hill.

“That really is the driver and this year, with the exception of UConn, you know, these are not blue chip teams,” Lawrence told KHOU Thursday when he said 6,000 tickets remained on secondary marketplaces such as his. “This is not Duke, this is not Michigan. If it’s under 60 bucks today, you know, could you get a ticket for $30 or $40 on game day? I think that’s a reasonable bet.”

As for Monday night’s championship game between San Diego State and UConn, Chron.com reported the cheapest ticket “is $44, with the cost dropping to as low as $40 for fans who purchase multiple tickets.”

That’s the bad news for the NCAA.

As for the good, those bargains produced a sizeable and a noisy crowd of 73,860 for Saturday’s games. Just guessing: The same won’t happen Monday night for a championship battle that doesn’t have something like Kansas versus North Carolina, which was last year’s title game.

Everybody loves David over Goliath until David keeps winning.

Remember this year’s opening round of March Madness? It included Fairleigh Dickinson becoming just the second No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed when the Knights shocked Purdue, the country and themselves.

Courtesy of that and other nearly equal upsets, the first round of March 16-17 averaged a record 9.2 million viewers.

The Davids kept happening, though.

As a result, for the first time since 1970, the Final Four had three first timers (San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Miami), and the NCAA’s TV partners had a problem.

Nobody was watching.

Through the regional finals before the Final Four, ESPN.com said March Madness viewers averaged 9.11 million, which was a 6% drop from last year.

Which was brutal.

What’s worse than brutal?

With San Diego State versus UConn Monday night in prime time, the NCAA’s TV partners are about to find out.

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