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March 28, 2014

RONN MOTT: Even NCAA floors pure Americana

TERRE HAUTE — I noticed during the NCAA Tournament games I have been watching that all of them have identical basketball floors, regardless of where the game was played. No logos of the Big 10, Pac 12, pictures of Wisconsin Badgers or shadows of big trees on the campus of Oregon … just a beautiful basketball court. The only advertising about it, or a logo, belongs to the NCAA. My, how times have changed.

The first NCAA Tournament was won by the Oregon Ducks. They were referred to as “The Tall Timbers of the Northwest.” The very next year the championship was won by Indiana as it defeated Kansas. Still, all the glory and glamour of these early days of national collegiate competition was the National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden in New York, and all the press coverage of the Big Apple. It took about one-and-a-half decades for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to put together a national tournament that would outshine the NIT. It went from just a few teams to approximately 32, and now it is 68. Like the game itself, and the players, bigger is almost always better.

The look-a-like floors, if my information is correct, come from the Menominee Reservation in upper Wisconsin. The Tribe decided in the late 19th Century to look after and harvest their forest of trees in a profitable, yet somewhat conservative way. The chief who led this movement was Chief Oshkosh (a name we probably know better from bib overalls). He was the one who saw the future of the wood on the reservation. The floor, in pieces, is then sent somewhere to be put together for shellacking, sanding and readied for action as soon as it is laid down.

I think I understand this … it means simply this is an NCAA Tournament, not the sitting center in the town the game is playing in, not the college that would play on another floor in this building, and certainly not some commercial enterprise. It belongs to the NCAA. I guess it makes good sense because the floor is absolutely neutral, and that is the way it should be. I don’t know if anyone plays any better on this floor, but the NCAA initials emblazoned on the center circle certainly lets you know you are watching an NCAA Tournament game.

This tournament is now the biggest deal college teams shoot for. Winning the tournament is the crown of crowns for any single year basketball season. Building these floors and putting together this tournament is certainly affordable for the NCAA because the tournament makes a large amount of money.

Well, now you know where the floors came from and what floor the champion will be playing on when the Final Four gets to Texas.

It’s really kind of Americana all the way. The trees are grown and harvested by the Menominee Native Americans and they are put together in a manufacturing facility in Amasa, located in Michigan’s northern peninsula, by Connor International, whose headquarters are in Salt Lake City.

I have no idea who will win this tournament, but I do know what kind of floor they will be playing on.

So, a little salute to Chief Oshkosh, who saw the future before any of us did. And if you thought you saw the “same” basketball court in all of these places, you did. I thought it was kind of strange so we dug around a bit and found this story.

Again, we salute the trees of maple and the folks of the Menominee reservation.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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