Utah has many connections to the NCAA basketball tournament.
The University of Utah won the men’s championship in 1944, appeared in four Final Fours and hosted one of the most famous championship games of all time in 1979, the battle between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State and Larry Bird’s Indiana State teams.
Utah-based Connor Sport Court International has continued that legacy this year by providing the 15 portable hardwood courts used for the men’s basketball championships and five more for the women’s tournament.
On Monday, a glistening truck festooned with the Final Four logo headed to AT&T Stadium in North Texas left Connor Sport Court International’s warehouse west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
The company, with 90 employees at its headquarters in Utah, has been making these floors for the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments since 2006, as well as providing its Sport Court floors for the NCAA volleyball tournaments.
According to company president and CEO Ronald Cerny, the floor, which will be installed inside the mammoth stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play football, is the largest his company has ever put together.
It will be 70 feet by 140 feet, which is more than twice the square footage of a regular basketball court. Cerny said NCAA officials wanted a lot of extra room on each end for reporters, photographers and other officials.
According to Wisconsin-based Menominee Tribal Enterprises, which provides the maple that makes a long journey to Utah and then to sites of all the NCAA men’s basketball tournament games culminating with the Final Four, a minimum of 30 maple trees must be cut down to manufacture the floor.
The floor consists of 250 four-by-seven-foot wooden panels weighing 50,000 pounds. These fit into a tongue-and-groove system designed to give the floor some give and take. It takes about four hours to assemble the floor on site.
“This is Americana,” said Cerny Monday. “The floors are made in Amasa, Mich., population 250. They are painted in Idaho Falls, stored in Salt Lake City and trucked to wherever.”
The company, which makes its Sports Court product in Salt Lake City, claims to be the world leader in sport floors. It has more than 100,000 installations worldwide, including hardwood courts for 14 NBA teams and countless numbers of NCAA schools. Cerny said the new floor being put in the Huntsman Center remodel is made by the company as are floors used by Brigham Young University, Dixie, Utah Valley University and Snow College.
In addition to providing the wood floors used for NCAA basketball and the Sport Court for NCAA Volleyball, the company provides courts for USA Volleyball, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and a number of other international sports organizations. Its floor will be used for basketball in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
The NCAA owns the courts, which are stored in a Salt Lake City warehouses between tournaments. Local workers package up the floors and make certain they get to the correct site. The company then sends a representative to supervise the installation.
“We are one of the only companies that provides both modular surfacing for volleyball, as well as the hardwood court they need for basketball,” said Brandi Connolly, senior director of marketing for Connor Sport Court International. “It’s easier to work with one entity instead of multiple companies.”
Cerny said working with different venues can prove to be challenging.
For example, Madison Square Garden in New York City hosted one of the regionals.
“You think of Madison Square Garden as top-of-the-line, but it’s an older gym so we had to conform it to that,” said Cerny. “We did one last year where the area was short, with stairwells coming down. We had to cut out the floor to fit. It was a real challenge.”
The NCAA once simply placed a huge tournament sticker over the host schools’ logo during the tournaments. But Cerny said the stickers proved to be slipperier than the regular floor. So the NCAA decided to buy floors for initial rounds with their logos painted on. When a logo is changed, as it was for the basketball tournament’s 75th year, the floors must be resurfaced, sanded and repainted.
“It’s what’s under the wood that makes the difference,” Cerny said. “The way it is structured and the spacing on the support wood are all calibrated to give it the right type of spring.”
Connor Sports Floors was founded in 1872. It merged with Sport Court, which was founded in Seattle in 1974 and moved to Salt Lake City in 1979, in 2005.
So, while Ute, Cougar, Aggie, Wildcat, Wolverine and Thunderbird fans no doubt wish their teams were playing in the Final Four, at least Utah sports fans know they will be represented at the championship game by the floor the game is actually played upon.