Thursday, March 20, 2008

March Madness and It's Effect on the Future of the College World Series

Today's NCAA tournament games in Omaha could almost be considered a "dry run" of a College World Series moved downtown. In one aspect, moving the event downtown looks even more like a no-brainer .... but another aspect starts clouding the picture.

One of the frequent criticisms of moving the College World Series downtown is the issue of traffic and parking, which always seemed ironic to me due to the better traffic flow and increased parking around the Qwest Center. But the criticism continued... "Parking is horrible around the Qwest Center." "Traffic will be horrible with afternoon games on workdays."

So that made today's NCAA tournament games such a good opportunity to evaluate the situation. Before the games, traffic was slow but flowed smoothly. The Qwest Center lots filled up shortly after tipoff of the Kansas-Portland State game, and side streets seemed to take up the slack. Downtown streets other than Cuming did not become jammed. And while 18,000 fans for basketball isn't a capacity crowd for a CWS game, it's probably a sizeable crowd for an afternoon College World Series game.

What about after the game? Well, I decided to thrust myself into the postgame traffic. Truth be told, there was hardly any traffic after the game. Fans left their cars in the lots and decided to go explore downtown. Many headed straight for the Old Market. Others headed west up Dodge and Douglas. It was easy to spot them, with Kansas fans in their blue, K-State purple, and the red of UNLV and Wisconsin on parade. I ended up waiting for a couple of extra lights, but for the most part, it was an uneventful drive. Now, is this representative of CWS traffic? Not a lot of people leave after CWS games, though more fans do arrive as the afternoon progresses. But from what I saw, downtown workday traffic wasn't significantly impacted today by 18,000 basketball fans. 24,000 baseball fans will likely have more of an impact, but it doesn't look like it's going to be a major problem.

Score that one huge victory for the downtown stadium side.

However, another side of the action outside the Qwest Center illustrates a huge and growing problem the downtown stadium faces:
Paul Bell of Nebraska City, Neb., said he already had purchased two tickets for the first session for $100 apiece — about twice the face value. But he also wanted to snag tickets to the two evening games of the second session.

"I'm just looking for them before I go inside," Bell said.

Bell, a Kansas fan, said it seemed as though
Creighton fans were the ones who were scalping tickets. He speculated that some of the fans bought extra tickets just so they could sell them at a hefty profit.

Bell said he saw a fellow KU fan announce that he wanted the best seats, then watched as that fan paid $500 apiece for four tickets in the front row of the Qwest Center. The seller, Bell said, was someone in Creighton gear.
I've heavily criticized Creighton's unethical (though perfectly legal) ticket plan for the NCAA tournament. But what wasn't so clear to me is it's impact on people's opinion of the new stadium until this week. Creighton's athletic department was a member of the stadium oversight committee. Creighton is expected to play some of their games in the new ballpark. Much like the Qwest Center. A co-worker earlier this week told me that he questioned whether getting the NCAA basketball tournament was worth it for Omaha since only Creighton benefited from it. A commenter on this blog said that he was tired of the city building facilities, only to have Creighton claim squatters rights on them. On another forum, one poster suggests that certain organizations like Creighton and MECA will simply use the new stadium for their own benefit.

While a few Creighton fans are enjoying the tournament action today, many others saw today as a profit opportunity that was given them by the Creighton athletic department. The unethical actions of Creighton and their fans in the NCAA ticket distribution raise questions as to whether Creighton can be trusted to be involved in the new stadium. That damaged reputation spreads to anything associated with Creighton... namely the new downtown stadium.

One of the big problems in this stadium debate is a lack of trust in our city leaders. It doesn't help things when the Creighton athletic department, one of the key partners in this stadium discussion, can't be trusted. In fact, it only makes the problem worse.

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