UD’s Sullivan: Hosting First Four ‘something we never take for granted’

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

UD Arena history

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The NCAA announced Wednesday the University of Dayton Arena will host the men’s basketball tournament’s First Four through at least 2026.

That was news UD athletic director Neil Sullivan hoped to get — but he made no assumptions.

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“We don’t ever assume that it’s ours,” Sullivan said of the event that has never been held anywhere else. "We feel like we have to earn it every year. We behave like that. We act like that. And so we compete like everybody else.

“It’s something we never take for granted, so you always have a little bit of anxiousness in waiting, but at the same time, we’re really confident in the experience that we deliver so we agree and are satisfied with with outcome.”

UD Arena played host to the inaugural First Four when the NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011 has done so every year since.

Prior to that, the opening-round or “play-in” game created when the tournament grew from 64 to 65 teams was played at UD Arena every season from 2001-10.

Knowing that history, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt noted the latest extension of the arrangement for the tournament to begin in Dayton will extend through the 25th anniversary.

“UD Arena has hosted more NCAA Tournament games at one venue than any other in the country,” Gavitt said in a video interview released by the NCAA. "The University of Dayton and the Dayton community take incredible pride in tipping off March Madness every year with the First Four. It’s been a very successful place from a fan attendance standpoint, from a team experience standpoint, from a centrality of the location in the country to get teams in and them out to start and then to go on to the first round sites after the teams advance.

“So while we did consider other options, Dayton continued to win the day, and we’re really excited to bring now four more years of the First Four to Dayton, which will assure that the 25th anniversary of their first time hosting in 2001 will take place in this bid cycle, and we’re much appreciative to Dayton and the University of Dayton for their hosting.”

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UD Arena’s 125 NCAA Tournament games are 42 more than the venue with the nextmost. That is Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

In 2013, Dayton sought a 10-year commitment from the NCAA in 2013, but the NCAA has opted to continue bidding out the First Four as it does other sites.

“We’re constantly looking to improve, provide a better experience for the NCAA, the participants, the coaches, the fans,” Sullivan said. “And so it keeps us hungry and keeps us on our toes to deliver the best experience we can, and we’re really confident in in our operational excellence in our on our fans and our community. So, we understand the process, we’re part of a membership that extends out three four years at a time and that’s okay by us.”

Senior associate athletics director Scott DeBolt, who serves as executive director of UD Arena, said the goal is to continue providing a top-notch experience to everyone who is part of the First Four, whether that includes fans, teams that won their way to Dayton by winning their conference tournament or squads looking to secure one of the final at-large bids into the round of 64.

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“The city just kind of embraces it, and like Dan kind of said in that interview, it’s the convenience of coming here, it’s the team experience,” Debolt said. "You know we hear it all the time, year after year teams talk about their experience coming to the First Four and how they were treated like it was a Final Four.

“You know half the teams are really excited just to be here because they’re in the tournament and the other half are kind of kind of upset that they’ve got to come to Dayton, Ohio, to play an extra game, but we treat everyone the same and like it’s a Final Four for them all.”

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the sports calendar, DeBolt said as of now the 2021 tournament is still set to begin at the normal time.

“As of right now, the NCAA is planning to end the schedule just like it’s been planned out,” DeBolt said. "They’re not planning on moving the back end of the schedule. Obviously they’ve moved the start of the season but everything’s a go.

“We do have calls multiple a month with them, and they’re just like everyone else saying we don’t know what the next couple of months are gonna bring. We may have to bend a little bit and be flexible, we’ve told them from the beginning we’re here for them. We’re always willing to help out and if they need to call on us at the 11th hour to help out we’ll make it happen.”

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