ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “You are now 5,312 feet above sea level. At this elevation you can experience fatigue or weakness, pins or needles, dizziness, shortness of breath upon exertion, drowsiness and persistent rapid pulse. Welcome to the Pit. A mile high and louder than …”
• • •
The University of New Mexico welcomes every visiting basketball team into the Pit with a stern warning about what they’re about to experience.
Of course it’s mostly high drama — theater created in part to get fans pumped up and in part to intimidate the opposing team.
But the pregame routine is born from the environmental reality of Albuquerque’s mile-high elevation.
So when broadcaster Doug Gottlieb recorded a “CBS Sports Minute” on Nov. 13 that aired on radio stations across the country, including locally on KNML (610-AM), that argued the NCAA should no longer hold neutral court games — i.e., NCAA Tournament games — in Albuquerque because of the effect the elevation has on players, he was surprised so many UNM fans took it as a shot at the Lobos program.
“I’ve always been bothered by the narrative that the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be neutral. To create a truly neutral environment, I don’t think altitude is a great way to do it,” Gottlieb told the Journal on Wednesday night when he was in the Pit working as an analyst for CBS Sports Network.
Gottlieb, 37, the former point guard for Oklahoma State, had a brief professional career overseas before starting his broadcast career that included stops at ESPN and now CBS. He said he remembers watching the Duke Blue Devils, and point guard Bobby Hurley in particular, “hit the wall” in the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where they lost in the national championship game to UNLV.
Those Runnin’ Rebels had on their roster Dave Rice, now UNLV’s coach. UNLV fell 65-60 to the Lobos on Wednesday night in the Pit.
Gottlieb said when he watched the Lobos beat Davidson in the early-morning game Nov. 13: “They (the Wildcats) hit the wall in the second half. If you play at altitude, some guys hit the wall.”
While he feels UNM is a better team than Davidson, he said it would be silly not to acknowledge that altitude was a factor in the Lobos’ second-half comeback.
UNM hosted two rounds of NCAA Tournament games last year in the Pit and hopes to do so again in the near future.
Athletic director Paul Krebs said altitude has never been brought up in any discussions with the NCAA about hosting NCAA Tournament basketball games. It has, however, been discussed when UNM has made bids to host track & field events.
The NCAA has named the Albuquerque Convention Center and UNM as the site and host, respectively, of the 2014 NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships.
Gottlieb said his comments were hardly a swipe at the Lobos, adding there is no reason to get to worked up about what he said: “It’s not like the NCAA is going to listen to me anyway.”
The altitude factor is actually just one issue Gottlieb has with the “neutral court” NCAA Tournament setup.
“I don’t like the pod system either, because the pods reward some schools that basically get to play at home,” Gottlieb said, referring to the practice of often placing the top-seeded teams in a particular bracket as close to their home fan base as possible. “I don’t like (NCAA Tournament) games played at altitude because there’s always a player like Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who couldn’t play at Mile High (Stadium in Denver against the Broncos) because of altitude because he has sickle cell.”
If the NCAA is to select a high-elevation city for future tournament games, Gottlieb said Albuquerque is probably the best pick because of the passion for college basketball.
Of the Pit, he said he was thoroughly impressed Wednesday with the atmosphere, facilities and fans.
And he didn’t even need an oxygen tank to make it through the second half of Wednesday night’s broadcast.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal