The end of the college-basketball season plays out in football stadiums that seat more than 70,000 people, some sitting so high that the teams below are nothing more than moving specks. But the beginning of the college-basketball season? It's played in hotel ballrooms.
This is the time of year when the best college hoops programs pack their bags and travel to rinky-dink arenas in exotic locales. Some have faced off on aircraft carriers and military bases. This week, No. 2 Louisville and No. 5 Duke are playing in the "Battle 4 Atlantis" tournament at the Imperial Arena, an event space at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas normally known by its other name: Imperial Ballroom.
The wide variety in attendance makes college basketball unlike other major sports. One of college football's opening games this year was a neutral site battle between Alabama and Michigan in Cowboys Stadium that drew 90,413 people.
Meanwhile, the Maui Invitational regularly attracts college basketball's biggest names to the Lahaina Civic Center, a venue with a capacity of 2,400. North Carolina, one of the teams that will pack the tiny gym this week, regularly draws over 21,000 fans to home games at the Dean E. Smith Center. Then there's next year's Maui Invitational, which will bring Syracuse to the pint-size space. If the Orange players feel cramped, that's because they're used to the Carrier Dome, which jammed 34,616 for a basketball game in 2010.—Ben Cohen