I got a chance to get back in the saddle this past Saturday to cover the sectional final game between Sun Prairie and Madison East. Sun Priarie’s 82-58 win was impressive, but not great fodder for a story. I have thoughts on that game at the end of the article, but what I’d like to focus on is the crowd situation.
Many factors led to one thinking that it could be a big crowd. It was Sun Prairie’s best shot yet at making their first state tournament. East always turns out in big games to support their school and it was a game between two local teams that would attract a solid local crowd.
To those without a school affiliation, the only competition in the area was a 7pm game between Edgerton & East Troy at Middleton, two teams probably not well known to the casual fan. The Badgers and the rest of the college basketball teams in the state weren’t on tv and the game had a big ticket attraction with Jalen Johnson, ranked 8th nationally in his class.
Basically, if you had the March Madness itch this past Saturday there was a good chance you were heading out to Oregon.
I arrived 5:30 for a 6pm tip where there was what I would estimate to be about 600-800 people waiting outside. Many others I saw walking back to their cars as I was approaching the school. I worked through the crowd to enter and expected to see a half empty gym awaiting all these folks, but to my surprise it was already wall-to-wall.
Mike Carr and his staff at Oregon high school did an amazing job doing everything they could to get as many people into the game as possible. They opened up the balcony for standing room only. They allowed people to watch through the large glass windows on the other side of the court. They pleaded with folks to squeeze in.
However, reports from Twitter said about 400-500 people were turned away.
Sure, that was unfortunate, but let’s pump the breaks on the blame game. Here are the most common complaints I saw and heard, and my corresponding thoughts.
Why don’t they play it at _____ high school?
Fill in the blank – Sun Prairie, Middleton, Madison West, Waunakee
First and foremost, as many know they couldn’t play it at Sun Prairie, as originally scheduled, because of the new rule that prevents a team from playing a sectional final at home which I think is fair.
Those other school gyms aren't that much bigger than Oregon (Waunakee is less). According to Athletic Director Mike Carr, the capacity at Oregon is 2000 seated. I would guess with standing room folks they pushed that to close to 2500.
If you take a look at this list of gyms in the state, Madison doesn’t really have that mega high school gym facility. Middleton has 2160 (but had a game already), Sun Prairie & West are at 2100. Take a look at the other metros and it’s common to find one or two gyms at 2500 or above.
Another issue with other schools is you have to have someone to run the event. It’s a nice revenue generator for the schools, but if you weren’t already planned to be staffed at that level and the call comes in a week before the game starts what are the chances you can pull all of that together? Oregon already had people committed to work the d2 sectional that afternoon, and while a double shift surely was a lot of work they already had committed their Saturday.
Why didn’t they play it at the Alliant Energy Center or The UW Fieldhouse?
Ok, I’ll admit, I stoked the fire here and mentioned on Twitter that I wonder what was going on in these facilities that night. The Alliant held Jerry’s Small Camping Trailer Expo and the UW Fieldhouse I presume was empty.
While I’ll get to the matter of cost in the next post, one thing to keep in mind here is how large these facilities are. Would the game have the same feel and energy if there are 2500 people in a building that holds 8000?
While I am sure a lot of people knew the game would be sold-out and didn’t even attempt going, was there 5000 of those people? I’d be surprised if there were.
All the WIAA cares about is money
I do not believe all the WIAA cares about is money. However, the facts are that basketball & football basically pay for everything else the organization does. It may be more correct to say, “All the WIAA cares about is providing opportunities in many different sports to as many students as possible and therefore has to bring in revenue.”
College and private gym facilities have rental fees and mandatory staffing fees. It is hard to get around it.
Let’s say 2000 people paid $5 to watch the game Saturday night. If those extra 500 get in that’s an extra $2500. I would guess the Field House or Alliant would cost well over $10K for rental & fees. Doesn’t make a ton of sense.
If those gyms were donated in an effort to bring people to Madison, to make an event out of sectional final Saturday, that would be the only way I could see that ever happening. Have three sectional final games at one of those places at 11, 3 & 7. However, that would have to be a coordinated effort between the tourism folks and the university where the majority of ticket revenue still goes to the WIAA & host school.
The Game Itself
As mentioned, it was Sun Prairie early and often. East was able to cut it to 9 at half, but the game never felt in doubt.
Jalen Johnson was as good as advertised. What really impressed me about his game is he’s someone that could go out and get 40 points if he wanted to, but instead plays within the team. He takes what his is given and does a good job facilitating within the offense. He also was a big help in breaking the pressure of East. The only time the Purgolders felt like they were going to make a game of it was when they forced some turnovers with Johnson on the bench with 2 fouls at the end of the half.
What I really loved about the Sunny P squad, and what is one of my favorite things in all of high school sports, is what I call seniors being seniors. Seniors being seniors is hustle, composure, hitting big shots, making the right pass, etc. It is taking those 10+ years organized basketball instruction, combining it with maturity and making great things happen.
Leading the way to no one’s surprise was Big 8 player of the year Marlon Ruffin. He hit big shot after big shot and finished the game with 30 points. He has an energy that I’d like to bottle and use on Monday mornings. The other seniors logging minutes for the Cardinals – Jansen, White & Strey – all played solid and had their moments throughout the game as well.
Last, but not least, Congrats to Coach Jeff Boos who I had the pleasure of working with for many years as part of the WBCA Executive Board. Jeff had to fight for his job at one point for a moment like this and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Nicholas Kartos is Editor Emeritus and Founder of WisSports.net. He now is the Founder & CEO of GymDandy, the easiest way to manage, sell and buy athletic space. If your school district, parks department or church spends hours of time scheduling space usage requests – both internal & external – let GymDandy help you save hours of time and increase revenue. Contact Nicholas today to learn more.