FRISCO, Texas — Conference USA is playing tournament games two at a time, on opposite sides of a huge black curtain in the facility where the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys practice.
This is a unique Texas two-step.
C-USA is believed to be the first NCAA league ever to play such games simultaneously in the same building.
“We’re kind of the guinea pig. I don’t know if anyone else will try it or not,” C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said. “We’re in a position where we can try some things and take some risks and see what we can build.”
The dual-court setup is being used for the first two rounds of the league’s men’s and women’s tournaments. Four teams, four pep bands and plenty of overlapping action on two courts.
Blair Reed, a Frisco resident who had never been inside the Ford Center that his tax dollars help build, had a 50-yard line seat Wednesday night. With no specific rooting interest, he sat in a permanent sideline seat directly in line with the curtain that split the building in half, where he could see both courts.
“It is sensory overload in a way, but if you’re a student of the game, and you know when to change your focus — free throws, you can look here,” Reed said, pointing from Court A on his left to Court B to the right. “Fast break, you want to stay with it. Timeouts, you can change your focus again. That’s how I’m doing it right now. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
A $20 general admission ticket was good for the permanent seats, while $35 general admission got fans closer to their teams in temporary stands for about 3,500 people around each of the courts. Fans could go back and forth between courts.
The C-USA tournaments are the first major collegiate events in the facility about 30 minutes north of downtown Dallas, and already are set to return next year.
The Ford Center is part of The Star, a 91-acre complex worth more than $1 billion where the Cowboys have their headquarters. The city of Frisco and the high schools from the Frisco Independent School District also share the building.
“Initially, we were just touring the facility and it’s such a great facility with the plaza out front, and the hotels and restaurants. We were like, what we can do here,” said MacLeod, whose idea for dual courts grew on Cowboys officials. “I think they like to be able to show the flexibility of the arena and the surrounding facilities.”
After four women’s games on the two courts during the day Wednesday, the men did the same that night. That gets repeated Thursday when the top four seeds on each side play Wednesday’s winners.
All of the semifinal games Friday and both championship games Saturday, with NCAA Tournament berths on the line, will be played on the same court.
Southern Miss men’s coach Doc Sadler acknowledged being a bit wary at first, not knowing what to expect in the unusual atmosphere.
“Anybody can complain, but I never heard anything from the other side,” Sadler said. “The court was well-lit, the environment is close. I thought it was a good setup.”
The Golden Eagles got to do it again Thursday, against top seed Middle Tennessee. They advanced after Cortez Edwards scored 29 points a 69-68 win over FIU.
Edwards heard some cheering from the other court during timeouts and deadballs, but that didn’t bother him.
“None of that stuff even matters if you’re focused,” Edwards said.
Brian Beard Jr. had 30 points for FIU, including a 3-pointer with 2:29 left in the first half — at the same time Nick Allen hit a 3 for UTSA as the Roadrunners took an early lead on way to their 71-58 win over UTEP.
The biggest crowd was for the Court A nightcap when North Texas, whose Denton campus is only about 30 miles away, lost 68-62 to Louisiana Tech. There were plenty of green-shirted fans rooting for the local team, along with a smaller but loud contingent from Ruston.
That game ended only minutes before UAB’s 83-72 win over Florida Atlantic on the quieter Court B wrapped up the first day.
“Being here for the UTSA-UTEP game, when you’re not coaching, I was trying to get a real good sense of that what you hear,” Blazers coach Robert Ehsan said. “There was some noise going on on that other court, but it didn’t really affect the game at all. ... It’s cool and unique to play in a venue like this.”
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