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Final Four: The Boys Are in Town

Indianapolis not being a regular on the high rollers' circuit, the beefy guys from Vegas looked confused. They were carrying big duffel bags and they didn't look like your typical college hoops fans, so I asked them what was in the bags.

"Stuff for the game," one replied helpfully.

Further investigation revealed that these gents--they wish to be known only as Richard and Morrie--like to go where the action is, and their particular brand of action is high-stakes poker. Inside the bags: The felt tabletops and other paraphernalia with which they can convert an ordinary Westin hotel meeting room into the venue for an all-night game.

The Final Four is a cross between a Super Bowl and Mardi Gras--it's got the beginnings of the corporate theme park vibe that has turned the Super Bowl into such a fan-unfriendly, bland event to be at, but the college hoops championship is saved by the fact that thousands of college kids do road trips and drive all day to be a part of the party scene.

So the streets of downtown Indy were transformed last night into a series of tented tailgate parties with mediocre rock bands, lots of plastic cups and an odd local tradition--straight, highly regimented lines of pretty young girls wearing not enough clothing, standing outside each watering hole as an enticement for passing gents to enter.

In addition to the partisans from the four schools in the tournament--UCLA naturally being the least well represented because of the geography of the game, Florida seemingly winning the prize for most avid and numerous fans on hand--there are thousands of professional Final Four attendees: the Vegas boys, coaches from most every college and a good many high schools, self-described "investors" who spend their time going to the big sports events around the nation, the corporate sponsors of the NCAA and CBS, us media hacks, and a few crazed hoops fans.

The whole of downtown has been cordoned off from traffic and turned into a street fair with music, street performers, more than your usual contingent of preachers (many equipped with crosses way too large to have fit inside a car), and, of course, scalpers.

Most of the ticket hawkers I spoke to said that the big brokers have already pulled up stakes and left town: Prices just not high enough. Tickets for tonight's games are going for maybe 10-20 percent over face, not enough to keep the big players around. But there are plenty of locals buying and selling, and a few cops chasing them from corner to corner. Some games never change.

By Marc Fisher |  April 1, 2006; 9:50 AM ET
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