What’s next for the First Four and NCAA tournament in Dayton?

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

UD will have to bid on First Four games ahead in next year or two as it seeks to keep games beyond 2026

The number of NCAA tournament games held at UD Arena grew to 131 on Tuesday and will move to 133 on Wednesday. The number will keep growing in the years to come: 137 in 2024, 141 in 2025 and 145 in 2026.

No one appreciates the atmosphere at the First Four better than the winning teams, as Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel showed in his opening remarks at the postgame press conference Tuesday after a 60-59 victory against Mississippi State.

“Well, first and foremost, what a great college basketball game in an amazing atmosphere,” Capel said. “I want to give a big-time thank you to the fans here in Dayton. You can see that they love basketball. Really want to give a huge shout-out to our fans that made the trek here to Dayton. We felt them. They gave us energy when we were a little bit tired.”

The first full day of NCAA tournament action starts Thursday with 16 first-round games.

The road to the Final Four once again started in Dayton, as it has in every season since 2001, except 2020, when the tournament was cancelled because of the pandemic, and 2021, when the entire tournament took place in Indiana.

Dayton has known since 2020 it would have the rights to host the First Four through 2026. That will be the 26th anniversary of the tournament starting in Dayton.

“UD Arena has hosted more NCAA Tournament games at one venue than any other in the country,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball, in 2020. “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.”

Explore» HISTORY LESSON: A look back at 129 NCAA tournament games at UD Arena

Every few years, Dayton has to bid on the the right to host the First Four again. Prior to 2020, the last time the NCAA extended Dayton’s hosting rights as in 2017. Dayton secured the games through 2022 at that point. In 2014, Dayton won a three-year bid to keep the First Four through 2018.

UD will have to bid on the games again in the next year or two, a UD spokesman said Wednesday.

“We don’t ever assume that it’s ours,” Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said in 2020. “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.”

Last year, the total attendance on the two nights of the First Four was 25,038, which was the second highest in First Four history behind 2018 (25,068).

Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson looked forward to experiencing the atmosphere when he talked at a press conference Tuesday on a practice day for his team, which will play Wednesday night.

“I’m used to playing where everybody supports you,” Anderson said. “I love the fact that Dayton is like that. Dayton, it seems like they support college basketball. They love basketball. So I think there will be a good turnout tomorrow night. I think people will enjoy seeing us play. I really think it’ll be a great game (Wednesday) night.”

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