Q. While watching the NCAA basketball tourney, I've been curious about something: All of the playing floors look exactly alike except for the lettering under the baskets that tells what arena and where. I can't imagine being able to get all of these floors refinished in such a short time. I'm thinking they might have some sort of vinyl or other material that they stretch over the wood floors of all the arenas. If this is a wild dream of mine and nothing to it, don't bother with an answer.
-- K.F., of New Athens
A. Believe it or not, your "dream" is not nearly wild enough. If you think all they do is put some kind of cover over the existing playing surface to make them look the same, you're going to be floored by this revelation: Every basketball court you see is installed specifically for the NCAA tournament. After the final buzzer sounds, that special floor is removed and the old one reinstalled.
Sound absurd? Sound impossible? Hey, they don't call it March Madness for nothing. In order to give its tourney what it calls "a uniform look and feel," the NCAA has all host sites swap floors for all tournament games.
Nine of those floors are used every year. They are installed at the arena hosting the First Four and the eight sites hosting the rounds of 64 and 32. But after that first weekend is over, those floors, like a jigsaw puzzle, are dismantled and trucked back to either Salt Lake City or Amasa, Mich., where they will be stored until they are needed the following year.
But here's where it gets really interesting: Every year, the NCAA has brand-new floors constructed for the four regional sites and, of course, the lucky arena that hosts the Final Four. And do you know what happens to these five floors after the hoopla fades? Most are sold to schools and arenas that are looking to get a top-notch floor at a discount. But more on that in a minute.
For the past few years, these courts have been built by Connor Sports Flooring, the NCAA's official court provider, at its plant in Amasa. Usually measuring 60 by 120 feet, they're broken down into more than 200 4-by-8 rectangles and a dozen or so 4-by-4 squares for "easy" transport and installation. The cost? Between $100,000 and $120,000 per floor.
If you'd like to see one being installed, you can watch Connor's 2012 work at the New Orleans Superdome in a two-minute, time-lapse video at www.connorfloor.com. But, in truth, it's not as herculean a task as you might think at first glance. After all, they do it all the time at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where they constantly swap floors for the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers NBA teams -- sometimes on the same day.
This year when the tourney ends Monday, Connor (as a courtesy) will ask the champion team if it wants to buy the floor it won the crown on. As you might guess, since at least 2006, no NCAA king has passed up the chance to purchase its championship court. Some have replaced their home floor with it, including Florida in 2006. Others, like Duke in 2010 and Connecticut in 2011, have cut it into pieces and sold it to their fans as souvenirs.
The four regional courts are sold on the open market, their "used" prices marked down maybe $10,000-$15,000 -- a regular blue-light special. Three of the 2006 courts, for example went to the Hope Depot Center at California State University to fill an open area in the middle of the largest velodrome in the United States. At least two others have wound up at arenas in Las Vegas.
More madness: If you have an eye for detail, you may remember that not all regional courts looked the same last year. Deferring to tradition, the NCAA allowed the Boston TD Garden regional to have a floor with a parquet design out of respect to the Boston Celtics' storied history on such a floor.
In 2009, the NCAA demanded that all logos be painted onto those floors because players complained of slipping on the vinyl decals slapped on at some sites. And before you ask, yes, Title IX applies here, too: These one-use floors also are made for the women's tourney.
The taxman cometh
For the man fretting about his Social Security benefits, I unfortunately must add an asterisk to my recent answer.
It is true that once he turned 66, he could apply for full benefits and still earn as much as he wants without a direct penalty. But I was remiss for not mentioning that those benefits can be subject to income tax.
Current rules say that if you are filing as an individual, 50 percent of your benefits can be taxed if your earn $25,000-$34,000 and 85 percent after that. If you file jointly, those limits go up to $32,000-$44,000. (For more details, go to http://www.ssa.gov/planners/taxes.htm)
Either way, it's much less than the 50 percent off-the-top penalty the man would have faced for drawing his benefits early. My thanks to faithful reader Ken Williams, of Swansea, for his alert tip.
Back to Bach: Don't forget
The Radio Arts Foundation-St. Louis' new classical music station will hit the airwaves officially at 10 a.m. Monday. (People have been picking it up the past few days during its "soft" opening.)
I plan to be at the opening ceremonies, but you can enjoy the longhair sounds at 107.3-FM (within a 20-mile radius), 96.3-HD2 on your high-def radio or rafstl.org on your computer.
When was the Jules Rimet trophy last awarded?
Answer to Thursday's trivia: In 1988, German tennis superstar Steffi Graf became the first -- and, so far, only -- person to earn a so-called Golden Slam by winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Seoul along with championships at all four of the sport's major tournaments that year.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com or call 239-2465.