NCAA delays bid on future First Four hosting sites

Mike Lawrie

Dayton, Ohio has hosted the First Four of the NCAA Tournament for the past 13 years, but as the event grows in profile, it looks like the NCAA might be looking into other hosting options.

The city of Dayton, Ohio learned it will have to wait at least a year to lock down its bid as the host of the First Four when the NCAA announced it won't name the host site for 2016 and beyond, the Dayton Business Journal reported on Friday.

The First Four has evolved during its 13-year stay in Dayton, going from one opening round game to four games over two nights. An NCAA spokesperson didn't spell a death knell for the city of Dayton, but took a very neutral stance in a statement to the Dayton Business Journal.

"Dayton is still a favorable site, and the end result could be that the First Four is played in Dayton for many years to come," said David Worlock, an NCAA spokesperson, in a statement to the DBJ. "This is simply a byproduct of the changing landscape of college athletics and due to this ever-changing landscape, the Men's Basketball Committee is reluctant to enter into a long-term agreement - for any round(s) of the tournament."

On one hand, the city of Dayton has done everything right with the expanded format that began in 2011. Tickets for the 2013 First Four games pre-sold enough by October of 2012 to consider the event sold out -- about six months before the games were played. Last year, there was an even bigger profile boost when President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron attended the opening-night game.

As Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner details, the announcement from the NCAA isn't much of a surprise. With the First Four now at four teams, more teams and more travel means more complications for the NCAA in laying out the bracket.

The NCAA's growing emphasis on reduced travel for NCAA teams makes a reevaluation of this process an obvious next step, although a non-subregional site (meaning not holding the opening round at pre-assigned Round of 64 venues) would almost certainly need to be centrally located.

The added profile of the First Four in recent years might also be piquing the NCAA's interests in ways to maximize its exposure. In 2011, the VCU Rams went from Dayton all the way to the Final Four. Last year, the La Salle Explorers upset their way to the Sweet 16.

After hosting the First Four for the past 13 years, Dayton still has the rights until 2015, and everyone involved still expects Dayton to submit bids for 2016 and beyond.

"The bid process for 2016, 2017 and 2018 sites is currently scheduled to begin next year and we fully expect that Dayton will submit bids for these tournament years," Worlock said.

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