ARLINGTON, Texas – When the Cowboys learned they had received the bid to land next year's Final Four at Cowboys Stadium, they knew they would also host the South Regional for the NCAA Tournament the year before. In fact, it's a prerequisite from the NCAA.
At the time, it was 2008 and the $1.2 billion stadium was about a year away from being built.
While four full football seasons have passed, with a Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game, four Cotton Bowls and countless other events have occurred, the time is now for some March Madness.
The four participating teams this weekend practiced Thursday at Cowboys Stadium, which was open to the public free of charge. Cowboys' executive vice president Charlotte Jones Anderson was on hand and said the organization is thrilled to land these four teams, including top-seed Kansas, along with Florida, Michigan and Florida Gulf Coast, the only 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16 in NCAA tournament history.
"For us, to have such great teams in here, it's so exciting," Anderson said. "Of course, we've got Kansas and Florida and now THE Cinderella team in Florida Gulf-Coast. When the final buzzer sounded in their game, we were all Googling where Florida Gulf-Coast was and what they're about. When you watch those kids and see such elation and for them to get out here and to see their faces, it's really amazing. There's nothing better than that."
Anderson said she is used to seeing athletes and entertainers, as well as thousands of fans enter the stadium in awe, with eyes wide open and jaws to the floor, and nowadays, often with their cameraphones out. But she said seeing the stadium turned into a basketball venue gives her a similar feeling.
"It feels great to be able to be the host and to see people's faces light up. But I have to say, I have the same feeling when you walk out and see this court," Anderson said. "And then to see who's playing and their experience. To be in a venue like this, with the (video) board and the people, it's an awesome experience."
And to think, this is just the preview for next year. The Cowboys are using this weekend's regional as a test-run for the 2014 Final Four.
"It gives us a chance to go through the whole process with everyone – who's working it, who's setting things up, just how the teams move about," Anderson said. "But this is live. There's no practice run. This is the real thing. Next year, we'll do the whole thing all over again, with even more excitement. To this point everything has been so smooth, we have such a great team with the Big XII. They know how to do this and we just get out of the way. We provide the venue and the setup and hope that everything else works well. So far, it's been great."
The action begins Friday with Kansas playing Michigan at 6:30 p.m., followed by Florida & Florida Gulf-Coast. The winners will meet Sunday afternoon for a spot in the Final Four.
Single session tickets for the 2013 regional are still available and start at $40, while all session tickets (seats for all the games that weekend) begin at $70. To purchase tickets to the South Regional games at Cowboys Stadium, visit www.NCAA.com/mbbtickets