Few who saw last year's NCAA final between Villanova and Georgetown will soon forget that basketball game. Always, they will remember the Wildcats coolly knocking in shot after shot to repel Georgetown and win one of the most dramatic college games ever played, 66-64.
What most people won't remember is that Villanova almost didn't get to play that final. In fact, the Wildcats almost didn't survive the first round of the tournament. And one person who thinks it would have been terribly unfair for the Wildcats to lose that first-round game is the coach who almost beat them, Dayton's Don Donoher.
"There is absolutely no reason for us to play a home game in the NCAA tournament," Donoher said. "And there is no reason for us to play on someone else's home court. The NCAA isn't supposed to be that way. It's supposed to be fair. If we had beaten Villanova because we got to play at home, it wouldn't have been right."
Donoher is one of many coaches critical of the NCAA Tournament Committee's annual decision to schedule teams at home during the tournament. This week, both Syracuse and Louisiana State will play on their home floors. LSU will play Purdue in today's opening round, and Purdue Coach Gene Keady was furious when he learned of his team's draw Sunday night.
"It's just not right," Keady said this week. "We are the higher-seeded team, and we have to play in front of their fans. It shouldn't be that way."
But it is, and, judging by the comments of members of the basketball committee, it isn't likely to change any time soon.
"If we refused to schedule teams at home, then why would the good places want to host the first and second rounds?" said Notre Dame Athletic Director Gene Corrigan, a committee member. "When you play in this tournament, you have to play well to win. The baskets are the same heights, the floor is the same size. Is the crowd going to shoot free throws? No."
But Corrigan conceded that the committee probably made a mistake in scheduling Purdue at LSU. "I only found out today [Tuesday] that this happened to Purdue two years ago," he said. "I think if we had known that when we made up the draw, we would have put Purdue in a different place. They should not have to face this two times in three years. They have a legitimate gripe."
Two years ago, as co-champion of the Big Ten, Purdue had to play a second-round game against Memphis State at Memphis State. Ironically, the winner of Purdue-LSU is likely to face Memphis State in the second round.
Keady is not alone in his unhappiness. Navy Coach Paul Evans, whose team faces a tough first-round game Friday against Tulsa in Syracuse's Carrier Dome, is less than thrilled with the idea of winning Friday and then coming back to play Syracuse on Sunday.
"All season long you hear about the home-court advantage," Evans said. "Teams try to schedule 18 or 19 games at home so they can get into the NCAAs. Then they get in and the committee, because they play in a big building, gives them a couple more home games.
"The NCAA is supposed to be fair, and everyone is supposed to have an equal chance. I don't see how anyone, whether it's Navy or anybody else, can be judged to have an equal chance playing in front of 30,000 Syracuse fans."
The question is a long-standing one. Two years ago, when Kentucky was host for the Mideast regional and advanced to the Final Four by winning twice in Rupp Arena, there were cries that it was unfair. In 1981, Indiana did the same thing. In 1980, Kentucky was host for another regional but lost in the semifinals to Duke.
After 1984, the NCAA decreed that no team could be host of a regional and play in it. Louisville, a regional host in 1987, immediately tried to get out of that commitment, wanting instead to host a subregional. No go, said the NCAA. But Athletic Director Billy Olson said this week that Louisville would bid in the future only on subregionals. That way, they would still have the opportunity to play home games in the NCAA tournament.
That would seem to support the NCAA contention that eliminating home court play would eliminate schools bidding to be hosts. Not true, said Donoher, whose school will this week be host for a subregional for the third time in six years.
"We won't be playing there this weekend," Donoher said, reached in Louisiana, where his team was preparing for a first-round NIT game against McNeese State. "But I guarantee you all three doubleheaders will be sold out.
"Hosting a subregional is very lucrative for the University of Dayton. We'd be glad to host one for the rest of our lives even if we never played there. I know there are a lot of other places that feel the same way.
"And, if you don't sell out every single game, so what? One of the problems with the NCAA tournament is that there's too much money being made anyhow. Scheduling teams at home just isn't right. I don't understand why that doesn't change."
It doesn't change, Corrigan says, because it would be too complicated. "If we say teams can't play on their home court because it isn't fair, then where do we draw the line?" he said. "I remember a game in Charlotte two years ago between North Carolina and Temple. There might have been 12 people in the building rooting for Temple. So, do we then say that North Carolina can't play in North Carolina? Or that Indiana can't play in Indiana?"
This year, for example, Georgia Tech will play in Atlanta's Omni and Kansas will play in Kansas City's Kemper Arena, although neither is the school's official home court.
For the moment, things won't change. Purdue will listen to LSU's fans tonight and Brown will hear the screams of 30,000 Syracuse fans Friday.
"What you want in the NCAA tournament is for the best teams to win," Donoher said. "When home court is involved, that doesn't always happen."