Dayton looks ahead to 2022 after losing First Four again

Tipoff for the start of the NCAA First Four at UD Arena when Florida Gulf Coast played Farleigh Dickinson in 2016. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Tipoff for the start of the NCAA First Four at UD Arena when Florida Gulf Coast played Farleigh Dickinson in 2016. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The coronavirus pandemic cost Dayton the First Four in 2020, and it will do so again in 2021.

The entire NCAA tournament will take place in one geographic location in March and April, the NCAA announced Monday, and that means the First Four won’t return to UD Arena until 2022.

“We feel for the community and the fans and the Big Hoopla and the volunteers,” said University of Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said. “It’s certainly a place where Dayton can shine nationally. It’s embedded in the fabric of Dayton, Ohio and the region. It’s a point of pride for our area and our university. It’s certainly disappointing you don’t get the opportunity, but it comes on the heels of being awarded the right to host through 2026, so we will just continue to be resilient and come back better and stronger than ever. I know our fans in the community will continue to support the event.”

The NCAA is in preliminary talks with Indiana and Indianapolis, which was already scheduled to host the Final Four, about hosting the 68-team event and expects to make a final decision about the site by Jan. 1.

The loss of the First Four two years in a row will have a negative impact on Dayton and the region from a financial standpoint. In 2019, Jacquelyn Powell, president of the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the event generated an estimated $4.5 million direct economic impact, and that has grown over the years.

Terry Slaybaugh, who heads the Big Hoopla Local Organizing Committee, said the organization started meeting in September to plan for the 2021 events surrounding the First Four. Now they will turn their attention to 2022.

“We realize the pandemic is going to end,” Slaybaugh said. “We just have to look ahead. I think we have a very creative local organizing committee. That’s really reflected in the quality events we’ve hosted around the tournament. I’m sure we’ll come up with ways to virtually participate in the tournament with our own events here in Dayton. For those of us who have been around the tournament, it is really a 12-month process. We get done in March, and within a few weeks, we’re starting to plan for the following year. It seems like a long time, but the time will pass quickly.”

Dan Gavitt, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball, told reporters on Monday the NCAA will consider venues outside Indianapolis. He also said teams will stay in the area until they are eliminated from the tournament.

“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Gavitt said. “However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”

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Sullivan said UD was not surprised by the NCAA announcement. He knew what a challenge it would be to play the tournament at 14 sites (UD Arena, plus eight first-round sites, four regional sites and one site for the Final Four and championship game).

“They obviously did what they felt was in the best interest of the NCAA and the tournament,” Sullivan said. “We support the decision.”

Dayton has hosted the First Four since its inception in 2011 with the exception of 2019 when the tournament was cancelled. The NCAA tournament also started in Dayton from 2001-10 with the opening-round game, often referred to as the “play-in game.”

UD Arena has hosted 125 tournament games, more than any other facility in the country. In 2017, UD won a four-year commitment from the NCAA to host the First Four through 2022. In October, the NCAA announced Dayton would host the games through 2026.

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By the numbers

125: NCAA tournament games hosted at UD Arena

2011: First year Dayton held First Four

$4.5M: Estimated direct economic impact of First Four in Dayton.

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