The First Four Doesn’t Need to Leave Dayton, But Maybe It ShouldPosted by Chris Johnson on August 20th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The first thing I think of when reading, writing or listening to anything having to do with the “First Four” is the NCAA’s frustrating semantical insistence that it be referred to as the “First Round.” Technically speaking, it is the first group of games qualified NCAA Tournament teams play, but to imply First Four teams and the other 64 all enter the Tournament needing to survive a “first round” – whether by playing games or not, which is what everyone except First Four teams do – is a confusing mischaracterization casual fans and writers alike could do without. We know what the real first round is, so let’s give it its proper nominal recognition. Sorry, First Four teams, but you can’t merely waltz into a spot in the first round of the NCAA Tournament; you need to earn your way there by winning your – gasp! – play-in game.
Until the NCAA resolves that issue, I will have trouble looking past any non-branding-related First Four storylines. Today, I’m making an exception. Numerous reports from Dayton Friday brought word that the NCAA rejected the city’s proposal to extend its First Four hosting rights beyond 2015. Dayton, as you probably already know, has hosted the event since its inception, including back when it only involved two teams and was called, whether formally or not, the one and only play-in game. Twelve years later, the NCAA appears to be exploring alternatives. Or maybe it just has commitment issues. The Dayton Business Journal got NCAA spokesperson David Worlock on the record:
The NCAA confirmed Friday it will wait until at least next year to select sites for the event in 2016 and beyond. Local officials had been lobbying the NCAA to secure an earlier commitment for the First Four — which is being held here in 2014 and 2015 — for as much as a decade. “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.”
Looking around for possible Plan Bs while reserving the right to renegotiate with Dayton – as invested and prideful as a city hosting two qualifying college hoops games can be – is a perfectly reasonable move. Dayton has gone above and beyond its call of duty as a First Four host city; there are few places in the country where fans will flock to the local arena for games not involving their hometown squad. Dayton residents do this for no other reasons than genuine civic pride and a deep-rooted love of college hoops, which at least partially brushes aside the humbling reality that their beloved Flyers have won just one NCAA Tournament game (and have never appeared in the First Four) over the 12 years of sanctioned play-in-game action. That’s an admirable cause, and it speaks to why Dayton has and will remain one of the NCAA’s top choices when it sorts out First Four hosting grounds after 2015. The NCAA will have plenty of other options to look at, too, which is why signing off on Dayton as the long-term destination, with “at least a year” standing between now and the deadline for a decision, is a promise the organization didn’t need to (and ultimately didn’t) make.
Having Dayton as a fallback feels like a pretty good last resort. In the meantime, the NCAA can explore new ideas. What about identifying a group of potential destinations in different regions spaced around the country, then staging the game in the region closest to the team with the higher “true seed”? Or, as NBCSports’ Rob Dauster suggested Monday, implementing a rotation of hosting sites involving some of the nation’s most revered college gyms? Dauster mentions The Palestra, Cameron Indoor, Phog Allen, Hinkle and Assembly Hall. Or – and this might pose even more geographical hitches than the current set-up, but I digress – why not stage the event in a tropical location, sort of like all the fun non-conference events we see in November? Maybe you’re more intrigued by the idea of playing a double-header outdoors on the deck of an Aircraft carrier? Kidding.
No matter how or if the NCAA decides to tweak where it hosts the First Four, it is completely within its rights to do so. Better yet, the move is downright encouraging. I’m excited to see how the hosting situation could be tweaked for the better, and you should be, too.