Want the Final Four Court? You Have to Win on It First.
Villanova fans won’t soon forget the buzzer-beating shot by Kris Jenkins that won the 2016 N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championship game in Houston. But if they ever need a little reminder, the college in the Philadelphia suburbs has the exact hardwood — complete with two footprints marking the spot where Jenkins took the shot — on display in a cafe area inside the university’s on-campus arena.
Like 10 of the last 11 winners of the men’s tournament, and at least four recent women’s champions, Villanova acquired the Final Four floor (confetti not included) on which it won its title as one of the spoils of its victory.
Each spring, the winning team has two weeks to decide to purchase the floor, a portable surface made for the N.C.A.A. specifically for use in only the two national semifinals and the championship game. They don’t often refuse.
An Illinois company, Connor Sports, has supplied the hardwood for both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments since 2006. The company annually provides five new floors for the men’s tournament: four for the regional rounds and a championship court for the Final Fours.
After building the courts off-site, Connor Sports supervises their installation and removal while retaining ownership of the floor to sell at the conclusion of the tournament. As part of its agreement, according to Jeff Krejsa, vice president for marketing and strategy for the company, the N.C.A.A. stipulates that not only does the winner get the exclusive window to buy the championship court, but that Connor can’t break it up and sell it in pieces as memorabilia.
The floors from the regional rounds often have a post-tournament destination arranged before they ever get used. In past years, they have found homes in universities, practice facilities, convention centers, small arenas and even private health clubs. Gary Gray, who helps sell off the floors, said the company has given more than 120 regional courts a new life, including one that turned into the Golden State Warriors’ court when the team played at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Before the courts are used, and then sold and repurposed, they first must be built.
Connor Sports uses maple harvested from the country’s northern forests, often in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and all floors are crafted in the company’s facility in Amasa, Mich. The floors are larger than typical surfaces because of the custom dimensions needed to fit within the stadium environments — the Alamodome in San Antonio and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — used by the N.C.A.A. for Final Fours.
The final painting and finishing process is completed by a regional finisher hired by Connor Sports and chosen based on the location of the championship weekend. For this year’s men’s tournament, for example, the Ohio Floor Company in Shreve, Ohio, had the task of prepping the floor before it was delivered to Indianapolis.
The courts are made new every year, meaning those built for last year’s tournaments — and ready for use — never got their championship moment. Once last year’s tournament was canceled, the finished floors were simply refinished and sold. And then the process began all over again for this year’s games.
According to Connor Sports, the winning team generally purchases the floor, with only Connecticut — after winning its fourth national title in 2014 — declining in the past 11 years. (UConn had bought a court three years earlier, after its 2011 title.)
While the men’s tournament has produced more team sales since 2006, Connor Sports also has sold the court to four universities that won women’s championships. Krejsa said the lower number was a result of fewer programs’ winning the women’s title, as a repeat winner is less likely to buy a second floor. (Stanford was only the seventh different women’s champion since 2008, while nine programs — including the Baylor-Gonzaga winner on Monday night — have won the 13 most recent men’s titles.)
Teams typically use the center section of the court featuring the tournament logo for a display and often sell other areas of the floor to fans and supporters. While winning teams sometimes simply hire Connor Sports to chop up the floor to sell it, many have found unique uses for some — or all — of it.
Villanova’s 2016 winning floor from Houston made its way into a 2018 redesign of Finneran Pavilion, the team’s on-campus arena. The midcourt logo and the end of the court where Jenkins hit his title-winning shot are visible from the lower-level lobby. When Villanova won another title in 2018 in San Antonio, that floor was purchased, too. Its midcourt logo now lives on as part of a second-level hospitality area. Both floors were purchased — they cost about $100,000 — by an anonymous donor.
The court from New Orleans where Kentucky won its 2012 title lives on in the Wildcats’ men’s locker room in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Portions of the floor appear in different areas, with the midcourt logo as the focal point of the rotunda where the players change and a sideline piece in the spot where the team and staff members eat, said Deb Moore, a Kentucky athletic department spokeswoman.
Kentucky fans can get a taste of past championships, too; one of the court’s free-throw lanes now serves as the main entrance to the arena.
Gray said Kentucky initially had declined to purchase the floor and Northwestern Mutual — then an N.C.A.A. partner — opted to buy it and use it for an annual company meeting in Milwaukee.
“The team found out the court wasn’t purchased, and the school realized they had made a mistake by turning it down,” he said. “They purchased the court back from Northwestern Mutual and ended up contracting Connor to utilize pieces of the floor for their locker rooms.”
Louisville hung a section of the floor from its 2013 men’s title in the lobby of the KFC Yum! Center. (It has endured longer than the title, which was vacated in 2018 after the Cardinals were punished in a recruiting scandal.) And Kansas has the midcourt logo from its 2008 men’s championship win in San Antonio on a wall in the team’s practice facility.
Florida bought the 2006 floor and refinished it as the team’s main competition court — it was replaced after the 2016 season — and the next year won again and bought that floor as well. The 2007 floor’s center court emblem still hangs in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the Gators’ campus home.
Two older floors have use outside university life. The 1989 men’s Final Four floor from the Kingdome in Seattle was moved to a health club, the PRO Club in Bellevue, Wash., where it sits alongside a former Seattle SuperSonics court.
The 2001 court from the Metrodome in Minneapolis took a twist while getting to North Carolina. After Duke’s men’s title run in the Twin Cities, the floor was purchased and eventually donated to the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham, N.C., a nonprofit dedicated to the education of local youth founded by Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski and named after his mother.
With enough hardwood to serve as both a gym floor and a performance stage, the court has since hosted more than two decades of shining moments.
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