Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
NCAA representatives came to town this week to assess Atlanta's bid to host college basketball's Final Four in the new Falcons stadium, a task complicated by the fact that the proposed venue has yet to rise from the dirt of a downtown construction site.
Two college athletic directors on the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee, Northeastern's Peter Roby and Creighton's Bruce Rasmussen, joined two NCAA staffers here Monday and Tuesday, a key step in the process that will lead to November decisions on where to play the 2017 through 2020 Final Fours. Seven other cities also are bidding for the events.
Ordinarily, NCAA site visits would include extensive tours of the proposed venue. But the delegation instead got a virtual tour of the new Falcons stadium that isn't scheduled for completion until March 2017.
Roby and Rasmussen told The Atlanta Journal- Constitution that awarding a Final Four to a yet-to-be-built stadium would be a leap of faith, but they didn't seem uncomfortable with the possibility.
"I think you're taking a little bit of a leap of faith, obviously, because if you don't have the finished product in front of you, you're going on the belief in the people that are doing it," Roby said. "But with technology now ... all of us on our campuses have seen facilities built (virtually) before they ever put a stick in the ground."
Rasmussen said the opportunity to incorporate the needs of a Final Four into a new stadium's design could be an advantage. "I think the real positive to not having the stadium (built) is you can look at what has been successful in other places and you can create it to begin with," Rasmussen said. "Sometimes we look at facilities that are older, and it takes a lot of manipulation to get it to be the way you would like it to be."
The NCAA representatives didn't tip their hand on where the 2017-20 Final Fours likely will land. The NCAA named eight cities as finalists in January and will complete site visits to each by the end of September. The 10-member men's basketball committee will hear presentations from each bid city at a November meeting in Indianapolis and will announce the four site choices soon thereafter.
The Dallas Cowboys' stadium, which was the site of last season's Final Four, and the Minnesota Vikings' planned new stadium, which is slated to open in 2016, are among the finalists. Others, in addition to Atlanta, are Glendale, Ariz., Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio and St. Louis.
Atlanta Sports Council executive director Dan Corso, whose organization is leading the local bid effort, said in an email that the NCAA's site visit "went as well as it could have gone." He said the NCAA representatives were told Atlanta wants to exceed the "very successful" 2013 Final Four here and that the new stadium "will certainly go a long way in accomplishing that goal."
The Atlanta bid committee also includes representatives of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, Falcons and Georgia Tech, all of whom participated in the NCAA's visit. The NCAA group saw downtown hotel locations and convention space, toured the new College Football Hall of Fame and completed its visit with a stadium briefing that included a replica, renderings and video.
The 2017 Final Four isn't an option for Atlanta because of the stadium's construction schedule, but the city is seeking any one of the three other available years. Atlanta has hosted the men's Final Four three times since 2002.
"I would think if there's any concern or any consternation about not having a venue built, it is mitigated to some extent because the people here ... have proven themselves on a number of occasions," Roby said. "It's not their first rodeo."
The NCAA will decide in November where to play the 2017-20 men's basketball Final Fours. The 2015 and 2016 events already are committed: