The University of Dayton soon will find out whether it will keep the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship First Four beyond next year.
This week is a chance to remind decision-makers why Dayton has hosted tournament games for so long.
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UD will host the First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday for the seventh straight year — since their inception in 2011 – and served as a play-in game site for 10 consecutive years before the NCAA tournament field expanded from 65 to 68 teams.
Dayton’s contract runs out after the 2018 tournament, but the university submitted a bid , along with Hershey, Pa., Detroit and Evansville, Ind., for the next cycle from 2019 to 2022. According to NCAA director of communications David Worlock, the association is scheduled to announce preliminary round sites for the 2019-22 tournaments this spring.
“It’s a huge event, not only for us at the Arena, but for the Dayton region as well,” UD Arena manager and First Four tournament director Scott DeBolt said Sunday as preparations were underway.
Worlock told PennLive.com in June that UD will not get preferential consideration as the only host the First Four has known but its success running the event would be factored into the decision.
No arena in the country has hosted more NCAA tournament games than UD Arena, as the total sits at 113 games and 30 tournaments since opening in 1969. Most of those have been opening-round or play-ins, but regional games also took place there in 1972, 1975 and 1978.
DeBolt said UD Arena is a proven winner because of the support of the local community, as well as being in a region full of basketball fans.
Tickets for the 2013 First Four sold out six months before the event. The first night of games last year drew 12,130 fans, and attendance the next night was 12,582. Capacity is around 12,400. Often times, the First Four draws larger crowds than first- and second-round games.
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The fan support is just part of what the NCAA recognizes as making the First Four a success in Dayton, though.
“For more than 15 years, the University of Dayton and the Dayton community have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to giving the participating teams a first-class experience during the tip off of March Madness,” Worlock told the Dayton Daily News last week. “Our feedback from every constituent indicates the overwhelming satisfaction with the support given to them from the time they arrive in Dayton until they travel home or on to their next competition site.”
Worlock said before the 2016 event that Dayton’s “cooperation and enthusiasm has made for a terrific start to the NCAA tournament.”
UD Arena has been among the top 35 in national attendance since it opened, according to the First Four Local Organizing Committee’s website — www.DaytonHoopla.com. Flyers games regularly draw large crowds that bring nearly a tenth of the city’s 141,000 population, and national media have widely considered UD Arena among the top college basketball atmospheres.
That carries into the First Four, as well.
“Obviously, the driving force behind what makes this event the epicenter of college basketball is the fans and to have fans come support this, regardless of what teams are playing here,” Eric Farrell, executive director of the First Four Local Organizing Committee (The Big Hoopla), told the Dayton Daily News last March. “Not knowing the teams makes it a little more fun because now you’re going to go watch two, four teams you’ve maybe never even heard of, but those games are going to be one-point games and they are going to come down to the last possession, and it’s going to be really exciting.”