UD Arena will host NCAA Tournament games for the 12th straight season
By: Keith Raad – Sports Writer
The story of the NCAA First Four coming to Dayton, Ohio is one that developed over time.
What was once an unsolvable technicality is on its way to becoming a tradition. Whether or not it will remain in the Gem City in the future, the University of Dayton and UD Arena have stamped a mark on the NCAA Tournament, and what it means to play during “March Madness.”
In 2001, the NCAA Tournament was expanded from 64 teams to 65 because of a conference split involving the removal of football programs that formed the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference. Because conference champions receive an automatic bid, there was a problem to be solved.
“It was kind of a unique situation because the way the NCAA did it, if 50 percent of the conference stayed together, you could keep the bid,” said Doug Hauschild, UD Director of Media Relations and Sports Information Director. “When they broke apart to make the Western Athletic Conference and the [Mountain] West, half of the league went. So who are you going to give the automatic bid to? They both got one, which created an imbalance because you had more automatic qualifiers than at-large bids. That’s where the opening round came about.”
Hauschild, a SID for the Flyers men’s basketball, football and men’s and women’s tennis teams, has been at the head of operations, as media coordinator, for the opening round games since their inception in 2001.
When faced with the imbalance problem in 2001, the NCAA figured they could play the game in a close-by, and historic, location.
“Their first thought was to actually do it in Indianapolis,” Hauschild said. “It would have been a kind of Hoosiers feel. They would do it in Hinkle Fieldhouse. The NCAA headquarters had moved there not too long prior. The only problem was that Hinkle wasn’t available because of Indiana High School basketball.”
Fortunately for them, Dayton was hosting the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament that year. During the site visit made by the NCAA prior to the tournament site being used, a light bulb illuminated in the minds of the NCAA.
“During the site visit, the NCAA found out they couldn’t get Hinkle, so they said, ‘Hey, we have this game we need to find a home for,’” Hauschild said. “Time was short, it was late spring, early summer and they asked us if we would take it on. I think their thought was that if they couldn’t get Hinkle, they would just put it at a first round site every year and let the winner stay.”
What happened next was alarming.
“We drew so many people, and they never imagined getting 8,000 or so people at the game that they asked us to take it on in the future,” Hauschild said. “We said, ‘Of course, we love it. We’ll take it.’”
In 2011, the “play-in game” grew to include eight new teams playing in four total games. With 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament, the East, West, Midwest, and South regions would have a team that played in the First Four.
Though the number of teams expanded from 64 to 68 to enhance the entire bracket, making Dayton the traditional opening round site for the time being had to do with a connection to the community and player experience.
Hauschild recalled the first year that UD hosted the play-in game, which also went along with hosting the First and Second Rounds, and the National Invitational Tournament.
“The funny thing was, was that we hosted the NIT that year,” Hauschild said. “So the team that won [the play-in game], Northwestern State University, needed something to do. So we gave them tickets to the [NIT] game and they showed up in shirts that said, ‘Hey Dayton fans, please root for us tomorrow.’ That was awesome. They really had a lot of fun.”
As the opening round developed, so did local committees. Dayton Hoopla, which grew out of a local organizing committee for the First Four, sets its sights to ticket sales.
Dayton Hoopla prides itself on organizing community partners to fill-out UD Arena by purchasing tickets. The community partners distribute those tickets to their employees, but to another worthwhile cause.
“[Community partners] also throw them into a pile that can be given out to service men and women stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and other service men and women,” Hauschild said. “Also, they are given to kids who do well at school. A lot of those kids are kids who may never get to attend an NCAA Tournament game unless they went out and got good grades and someone gave them a ticket.”
Hauschild and his organizing team that manages the event pride themselves on making Dayton the one stop every team can reflect on making. But without help from Dayton Hoopla, the games would be much different.
“Dayton Hoopla needs to get fans in the seats because numbers do not lie,” Hauschild said. “When the NCAA Tournament moves forward, 10 years from now, they can be able to see that Dayton drew 12,000 people to this game. We’re making sure the numbers create our legacy beyond creating a hospitable environment.
“For some of those players it’s a once in a lifetime event. We don’t want them to think, ‘Well, yeah we played in this game and we lost and I never really got in the tournament.’ When they walk out of here we wanted them to know that they were in the tournament win or lose.”