As we sit here a few days removed from the Round of 32, most everyone's minds are looking ahead to Boston and the Sweet 16. Mine too. But since I just spent four days in Pittsburgh experiencing how they operate as a host city for the NCAA Tournament, I figured I'd share some thoughts.
I arrived on Thursday just before noon. I had tickets to the entire afternoon session, and my intent was to park and head right into CONSOL Energy Center to watch the Kansas State vs. Southern Mississippi game prior to the Syracuse game. Unfortunately by that time all the stadium lots were full. I then spent what seemed like forever driving around downtown looking for a parking garage; all were full or only open for leased spaces. I eventually came upon a garage way up by the river, probably a 25 minute walk to the stadium.
Now, let's understand a few things, because I don't wanna totally slam Pittsburgh on parking. Yeah, it was midday Thursday. People work. So that must account for a lot of the parking issues. But still, they can surely accommodate when there's Penguins games, right? I would assume, but this is potentially eight different fan bases descending on a city all at once. Not to mention just the casual fans who bought tickets just to watch Tournament basketball. Finally, the old Civic Arena ("The Igloo") is being torn down. I assume a new parking lot or garage will stand in its place one day, but for now it's still a demolition site.
At any rate, the parking situation sucked. Glad I took a cab in from the hotel on Saturday.
If you've never been to the CONSOL Energy Center, make it a point to go. I had one of the "lesser-desired seats" near the top in a corner. And I thought they were damn good seats. Probably not a bad seat in the place. That's probably more true for hockey. I thought concessions and bathrooms were plentiful (at least where I was). The seats were comfortable (though they were lacking a cup holder, which would have been nice). The concourse and concession areas had numerous flat screen TVs, so if you got up during the action you still wouldn't miss it (though I quickly discovered a nearly 9-second TV delay). Bathroom had an orange scent to it, unless I was just imagining things.
Pittsburgh has a lot going on outside of hosting the Tourney games. I was surprised to hear that Pittsburgh hosts the country's second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade. This year attracted Vice President Joe Biden, who took the opportunity to campaign for President "O'Bama." That, of course, was why Joe Biden showed up at the Syracuse game Saturday (which I had earlier predicted). Other St. Patrick's Day festivities (i.e. lots of drinking) were happening all over the city. I had been out on Carson Street on Friday night, so my brother and I hoofed it back down that way after the game. That's evidently where the younger crowd hangs out, and you could tell by their amateurish drinking on Saturday. It made for some fun people-watching, though!
One thing I'll have a huge beef with Pittsburgh about is the cab situation. They are scarce, especially later at night. It was nearly impossible for us to get a cab Friday night even before the bars closed! I remember that being a problem the first time I was in Pittsburgh, back in December for that last whimper of the 2011 Syracuse football team. It looks like the cab situation may be getting better now, but unfortunately it came too late for NCAA weekend.
Overall, I had an enjoyable time in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh was a fine host city. I think if they fix the parking and taxi issues, they'll be another great host for games in a few years.
Now Boston, you've got a lot going on already. I don't expect the NCAAs to have much of an impact on what I already know to be a great city.