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UD’s bid to keep First Four games for long haul denied

Dayton was turned down in its bid to host the NCAA First Four beyond 2015 — for now, at least.

The NCAA lauded the school for what it’s done with the event since its inception in 2011, selling out both doubleheaders last year. UD also hosted the opening-round game with great success, beginning in 2001.

But while the school had sought another 10-year contract to keep the games, the NCAA decided against awarding a long-term deal because of the upheaval in Division I athletics and what that might do to the tournament.

UD still is considered the frontrunner to host the First Four from 2016-18 when bids are submitted in May 2014.

“They really said they appreciated Dayton’s level of interest of hosting this long term, but with the current state of affairs, they really were uncomfortable even acting on our proposal,” UD Athletic Director Tim Wabler said by phone from Italy, where he is accompanying the women’s basketball team on an exhibition tour.

“On the other side of this, all we hear from the NCAA is a constant reminder that we are a preferred site. They love everything about the University of Dayton and the community of Dayton and how well we support it. They certainly want us to keep participating in the bid process.”

In the last two years, 56 Division I schools have changed leagues. And the Big Five football conferences — the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, PAC-12 and Big 12 — have discussed forming another division while expressing their disenchantment with the NCAA.

Ron Wellman, the chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball committee and a Celina native, said: “I know first-hand what a great basketball town Dayton is, and while we know we can always count on Dayton’s support of the men’s basketball championship, the changing landscape in collegiate athletics makes it difficult to be certain what the future will bring.

“Because of this, our committee felt that the best course of action would was not to enter into any long-term commitments for any portion of the tournament until the future becomes more defined.”

While disappointed not to receive a lengthy commitment, UD and the Local Organizing Committee will keep working toward their goal of helping Dayton gain a niche in the sports world as the place where the NCAA tourney is launched every year.

“I believe we’ll continue to just knock out it of the park with the tournament the next two years and show them there’s no place like Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four,” Wabler said.

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