With a seating capacity of just under 11,000, Grand Rapids” Van Andel Arena knows its place in the feeding line of athletics facilities.
Van Andel could never host an event the magnitude of the men”s basketball Big Ten Tournament or a men”s basketball NCAA Tournament regional. So it acutely targets the opportunities that fit its limited scale, and then pursues them in admirably determined fashion.
Van Andel served as home for the women”s basketball Big Ten Tournament this past March, and this past weekend was the site of hockey”s NCAA West Regional.
Hosting an NCAA hockey regional is about the best Van Andel can do for itself, and that pride showed this past Saturday and Sunday. Unlike other collegiate hockey venues where the tournament is another run-of-the-mill event such as the Centrum Centre in Worcester, Mass., which two years ago hosted a flower show on the same weekend as the East Regional it was evident through the enthusiasm of the staff that running an NCAA regional was something Van Andel had been looking forward to.
It was unfortunate that the NCAA”s strict control over all aspects of its tournaments kept Van Andel from providing its usual quality of hospitality.
Long known as a control-freak organization, the NCAA is unable to realize when it is taking itself too seriously.
Adjustments are made at every tournament site to ensure compliance with the Bible of guidelines laid out by the Narcissistic Committee with All-Knowing Authority.
As an example, for this past weekend”s regional, Van Andel staff was required to cover up beer advertisements around the arena (legitimate), suspend all concession sales of alcohol (also legitimate, much to the dismay of Wisconsin fans who thought they were at Camp Randall Stadium), and remove all advertisements from the side and end boards of the rink itself (understandable).
Every other part of the tournament was overlegislated. The Zamboni machine had a blue-circle NCAA logo sticker on the side, no doubt an involuntary measure. Piped-in music was only heard once, probably because arena officials came racing over to yank the cord on the sound guy, who must have thought this was another Grand Rapids Griffins game.
Most importantly to the 9,000 or so in attendance on Sunday, concession-area televisions were prohibited from showing the Temple-Michigan State basketball game.
Originally, the game was being shown on the medium-sized televisions. But, arena officials were alerted by the 100-strong crowd that had gathered around each set.
A crowd manager quickly stepped in to turn the television back to the house channel, which consisted of the blue-circle logo on a white background, since the game was at intermission.
Big Brother was again watching us. And we had no choice but to watch him.
I asked the man why Van Andel couldn”t leave the game on. “Sorry,” he said. “Contractual obligation. All TVs must be on the house channel.”
“Basically what this means is that if you left the basketball game on, you”d never get to host another regional, right?” I said.
“Pretty much,” he responded.
When the NCAA won”t let fans watch another game that the NCAA itself is sanctioning, then it has reached the peak of its anality.
Needing to calm the crowd, Van Andel staff compromised and showed the Michigan State game on the arena JumboTron between periods. In that moment of self-righteousness, Van Andel likely kissed away any chance of hosting this tournament again.
Years of watching this organization bumble its way through daily life have yielded me one conclusion: The NCAA is so accustomed to operating with its head between its legs that it begins to enjoy the view. But it knows it has the fans and the potential hosts captive, so it continues to wield the power to control every facet of every game.
Chris Duprey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org