Let’s Bring the NCAA Tournament Back to the Palestra

The NCAA moved a men’s basketball tournament subregional from North Carolina this week. What better replacement could there be?

The Palestra - inside view

Penn and Saint Joseph’s before a January game at the Palestra in 2006 | Photo by John Shadle (license)

Part of the NCAA tournament could come back to Philadelphia next year, and we should all get behind it.

Recently, the NCAA moved all of its championship events from North Carolina due to its opposition to the state’s House Bill 2. That includes an NCAA Tournament subregional that was scheduled for Greensboro. The first- and second-round games will be moved to another site.

The NCAA has already begun soliciting bids. On Tuesday at CBS Sports, Matt Norlander wrote that the NCAA would keep the location in the East and that about a half-dozen cities had submitted bids to host. He suggested a quality replacement site: the Palestra, the West Philadelphia basketball cathedral that was a tournament mainstay but hasn’t hosted a game since 1984. Penn’s gym has actually hosted 52 NCAA tournament games — but is too small to host them nowadays.

Yesterday, the Inquirer’s Mike Jensen wrote the NCAA had been informed that both the Palestra and Temple’s Liacouras Center were available for the weekend of March 17th. Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the city, told Philadelphia magazine yesterday that the city had not bid at this time but is exploring the possibility. Sen. Bob Casey even sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert, pitching various Pennsylvania venues as a replacement for the games moved from North Carolina.

There are a lot of hurdles to this, of course: Both the Palestra and the Liacouras Center are much smaller than the sites generally used for NCAA tournament games. The Palestra seats 8,722, but would accommodate fewer for a tournament game because of the media interest. The Liacouras Center seats 10,200. The Wells Fargo Center is booked that weekend.

The Center is the undoubtedly the “nicest” college basketball arena in Philadelphia, but the Palestra is really the pick if the city’s going to make a bid for this. Logistically, it would be a nightmare. “As a fan, I think this is AWESOME,” Penn sports information director Mike Mahoney tweeted. “As the person handling media, I think this is TERRIFYING!” Yes, Mahoney’s job would be tough. Yes, the lines for food and the bathrooms would be horrible. Yes, the seats at the Palestra are cramped.

But it’s a tiny gym that gets really loud when it’s packed, and has great sight-lines for fans. It’s a historic building that’s hosted more college basketball games than any another arena. It’d be a blast to put NCAA tournament games there. It almost certainly won’t happen, but it would be pretty cool.