PHILADELPHIA — Geno Auriemma always will have fond memories of his first trip to the NCAA regionals in 1991.
It was in his hometown of Philadelphia, and UConn was playing on his birthday at one of his favorite arenas — the Palestra. The Huskies went on to win that regional and lay the groundwork for their incredible run to seven national championships in the last 16 seasons.
Twenty years later, the City of Brotherly Love hosted another regional, but this time it was at Temple's Liacouras Center and not the iconic building on Penn's campus.
Auriemma certainly would have loved another chance to play there.
"When you go to places like that you just have this wow," the Hall of Fame coach said. "When you think back to what happened at those buildings, who coached there and who played there, what type of significant games had been played there, it's hard to beat something like that."
This is the 30th anniversary of the women's NCAA tournament. How great would it have been to have the regionals this year at the Palestra, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Pauley Pavilion, and Cole Field House — four basketball cathedrals?
John Feinstein, an author and historian of college basketball, believes adding a new hook to the women's tournament might be just what the sport needs for it to grow.
"Put it in places where people might go just for the building. How can that hurt?" he said. "Go back to Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, shoot for those 8 to 10,000-seat buildings. Make getting a ticket to a game a big deal."
The Palestra has held more NCAA tournament games than any other arena, and its 9,000 seats are the perfect amount for a women's regional. The men's tournament won't be back anytime soon because it has simply outgrown the place, although it could work well for the "First Four."
"We'd love to host again," Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky said. "There have been so many great games played there. Even if you have 4,500 people here it gets really loud."
That's about how many people showed up in Philadelphia on Tuesday night to see UConn beat Duke. The Liacouras Center was less than half full, even though overall attendance for the tournament is up 65 percent over last season.
Dallas drew more than 11,000 fans for a regional final that pitted Baylor and Texas A&M. Hometown team Gonzaga boosted the attendance in Spokane, where nearly 12,000 fans turned out for the Bulldogs' loss to Stanford on Monday night.
Still, those numbers could have gone a different direction had those teams not advanced.
Moving to a series of iconic buildings might draw the casual fan's interest and provide a fitting throwback to the golden era of college basketball.
For that to happen, the NCAA would need to work with the schools or conferences in those places to actually have them bid for the honor of hosting.
"It seems that for an anniversary year, perhaps coming into historic arenas like the Palestra or Pauley Pavilion would provide a nice opportunity for the women's game to become aligned with those historic sites that are no longer big enough for the men's game," said Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference commissioner Rich Ensor, who is finishing up his five-year tenure on the women's selection committee.
Sure, most of the basketball history associated with those buildings comes from the men's side. But ESPN analyst Doris Burke, who calls NBA games along with men's and women's college basketball, thinks it should be something that the NCAA pursues.
"I love that idea as an announcer," she said, "and for the players to get a chance to play in the Palestra? If someone explained the history to you, how much fun that would be?"
If the NCAA were to pursue the plan, there might be no better place to play the Final Four than Madison Square Garden. The arena has hosted the Maggie Dixon Classic the past four seasons and this year's edition brought in a crowd of 15,232.
"Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball, having hosted the best in college hoops for more than 75 years," MSG Sports President Scott O'Neil said. "We are constantly evaluating the possibility of adding additional first-class events to our schedule."
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