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College foursome tests Dome court on Sunday

It's not the Final Four. Not yet, anyway.

But Florida State, DePaul, Arizona and Temple make a fine foursome of college basketball teams for Sunday's 7-UP Shootout doubleheader at the Florida Suncoast Dome.

The official hope is these games will accelerate the area's heartbeat for college hoops, will lead to annual marquee matchups at the Dome, and ultimately will put the Dome in position for more NCAA regionals and pause for a silent prayer the Final Four.

Two officials from the Atlantic Coast Conference will be present Sunday to check out the facility. Dome officials also hope someday to bid for the popular ACC Tournament.

Florida State, ranked 16th, plays DePaul at 1:30 p.m. Fifth-ranked Arizona and Temple follow. Both games will be televised live by ABC-TV (Channel 10).

"I'm hoping from an attendance point of view that we can make it work," said Jerry Oliver, the Dome's general manager. The doubleheader's promoters estimate current ticket sales at 14,000.

"I feel that basketball in Florida is on the cutting edge," Oliver continued. "Florida State and Florida are in major conferences, USF has a good program, and there are other good programs in the state. I think there is potential here.

"As we try to put together other events, being successful in one goes a long way toward being able to put together others."

One is already scheduled. The Dome will be the site of first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games in 1994.

Staging regional games helps when your goal is the Final Four, said Bill Hancock, the director of the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship.

"They have inquired about the Final Four," Hancock said of the Suncoast Dome. "We know that they're interested. Can they be awarded the Final Four before (they stage) the first- and second-round games? Yes.

"The Final Four is so unique. In fact, it's totally unique. There aren't any other basketball events that take place in large domed stadiums that need space for 500 media people. The NCAA Executive Committee cannot judge them based on how they have done with events like this in the past. And quite frankly, we hope they sell a lot of tickets for those first- and second-round games, but that will not be an issue."

That's because Final Four tickets are sold to the public through a lottery. The rest are made available to the four schools.

Dome officials have time and size on their side. The next six Final Four sites have been chosen _ Minneapolis this year; New Orleans; Charlotte; Seattle; East Rutherford, N.J.; and Indianapolis _ and all will be played in arenas that seat at least 20,000 fans. The Dome's capacity can be 30,000 for basketball.

To pull this off, the Dome would need help from Tampa Bay communities. At least 6,400 hotel rooms would be needed, and things such as parking, catering, hospitality and media work space are plenty to worry about.

"There's no question it's in our thoughts," said Oliver, who helped Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome secure the Final Four before he moved to St. Petersburg. "It's a very difficult thing. I went through it in Indianapolis. Believe me, it's not an easy chore. But we have some things going for us. It's never been in Florida, and they've mostly been spread through the Midwest."

Hancock said the process of picking Final Four sites for 1998 and 1999 will begin later this year, with six to 10 finalists to be chosen in December. The two sites likely will be chosen sometime in 1993.

As for the ACC tournament, Oliver said the Dome is not prepared to bid for the 1994 and 1995 events, which will be awarded sometime in May, but might try to get the tournament after that. During the past two decades, there has been no public sale of tickets and the tournament has been sold out well in advance. According to ACC figures, the tournament generates about $17-million for the economy of the host area. The 1992 and '93 conference tournaments will be played at the Charlotte Coliseum, which seats about 23,000 fans.

"It would be the greatest thing that happened to college basketball in the state of Florida," FSU coach Pat Kennedy said.