Tick. Tick. Tick. … The countdown for the 2014 Final Four started at 10:45 p.m. CT Monday when the final horn sounded at the national championship game.
"We're on the clock," Tim Allen, senior associate commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said this week. "Over the next year, we'll be having monthly meetings with NCAA staffers and that's just a continuation of meetings we've been having on a regular basis for the past 18 months."
The Big 12 is the host institution. The venue is Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Between the NCAA, the Conference, Cowboys Stadium and the North Texas Local Organizing Committee, putting on the best Final Four possible is the ultimate goal.
"It feels like it's going to be here tomorrow," said Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and chair of the North Texas Local Organizing Committee. "When the NCAA awarded the bid in November of 2008, Cowboys Stadium wasn't even built. This process has been a great experience working with the Big 12."
The Big 12 hosted the NCAA South Regional at Cowboys Stadium. Hosting a regional the year before a Final Four is a mandated dress rehearsal. Cowboys Stadium hosted a Texas-North Carolina basketball game in December of 2009 and the 2010 NBA All-Star game but having the venue set up in a Final Four configuration gave everyone a chance to tweak any issues.
"This [South Regional] is a great run-through and a good test for next year," L.J. Wright, the NCAA director of men's basketball championships, told the Dallas Morning News. "We had great crowds, and we were able to find out things like pedestrian flow around the building."
Monday night's Louisville-Michigan championship game in the Georgia Dome had a record attendance of 74,326. The total attendance of 149,676 for the three Final Four games also set a record.
The expectation is that the 2014 Final Four (April 5 and 7) at Cowboys Stadium could break both attendance records. The seating configuration could mean a crowd around 80,000.
"It's Texas," Allen said. "And in Texas, we like to do things bigger. I think we're interested in setting the attendance record. Because of the facility, this becomes the 'bucket list' Final Four. In this venue, everyone is going to have a great view of the game."
The unique aspect of Cowboys Stadium is its 60-yard long video board that can overwhelm the action on the football field. But it makes viewing the players on a 94-foot by 50-foot basketball court set in the middle of the stadium's floor easier, no matter where a fan sits. And for the 2014 Final Four, additional video boards will hang beneath the main screens.
"There's no excuse for anyone to miss anything happening on the court," Jones Anderson said before the South Regional, noting the additional video boards. "That's one of the great things about this stadium, fans are not gonna miss a play in here. The seating configuration is wonderful and everyone will have a great line of sight."
Nearly two dozen representatives from the Big 12, Cowboys Stadium, the local organizing committee, the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and the city of Arlington attended the Final Four in Atlanta. The visit gave them first-hand knowledge and a view of what's to come in less than a year.
"The Big 12 staff has outstanding experience in big events like this and we're fortunate to be working with them for this Final Four," Wright said. "Quite frankly, they know it as well as some of our staff members do."