The First Four will stay at UD Arena — the only home it has ever known — for at least five more seasons.
The NCAA extended Dayton’s grip on the opening games of the Division I men’s basketball tournament from 2019 through 2022 on Tuesday. UD had already secured the games in 2018, as part of a three-year commitment in 2014.
“It felt like Selection Sunday for us today,” said Eric Farrell, of the Big Hoopla, which supports the First Four. “We’re overwhelmed with joy we get to host the tournament through 2022. It gives us five years of running room to continue to build on the success we’ve had.”
Dayton beat Detroit, Hershey, Pa., and Evansville, Ind., to win the games. By the end of the 2022 tournament, UD Arena will have played host to 137 NCAA tournament games, more than any venue in the country.
“We’re excited for the community,” Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said. “We’re excited for the University of Dayton and really the entire region. By the end of this bid cycle, the University of Dayton and this region will have hosted the opening round of the NCAA Tournament for 22 years. We’re proud of this community and this university and all the people that make it happen.”
UD has played host to the First Four since 2011. Prior to that, the opening-round game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or play-in game, was played at UD Arena every season from 2001-10.
Dayton sought a 10-year commitment from the NCAA in 2013, but the NCAA decided against a long-term commitment. UD doesn’t plan to try to seek another long-term commitment.
“Right now, we’re pretty satisfied with five years when you look at this year plus the four we just got,” Sullivan said. “When you really think about how this business works and how things change with conference alignment and all these types of things, that five years is quite a bit of time.”
UD Arena was not successful in its bid to host games in the first or second rounds in 2021 or 2022. Columbus will host the first and second rounds in 2019 at Nationwide Arena. Cincinnati will host the first and second rounds at U.S. Bank Arena in 2022.
Dayton didn’t get any advance warning from the NCAA that it had won the First Four for four more years, finding out at 1 p.m. Tuesday just like everyone else. In a poll conducted on Twitter, 80 percent of UD fans thought UD would keep the First Four, but as long as the NCAA keeps making UD bid on the games, there will be a doubt.
Dayton made future upgrades to UD Arena part of its pitch. For Sullivan, it was all about assuring the NCAA the arena will be full of fans and the teams that come to Dayton will enjoy a championship experience.
“To be a competitor you always are worried,” Sullivan said. “We’re fierce competitors. We focus on what we do best. You also keep your eyes on the landscape and what else is going on. What’s happened is we’re the only ones who wanted this at the start. When you look back at the early 2000s, we were the ones willing to take it. As time moved on and people saw what it could do for a region and a university and a city, other people started to get interested. We wanted to protect that aggressively and fiercely, and I think we did that.”