The University of Dayton has been hosting NCAA Tournament games since UD Arena was built in 1969. After this March, the arena will have hosted 125 games — the most in NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament history.
The vision of UD athletic director, Thomas J. Frericks, the $4.5 million UD Arena opened in 1969. In 2001, the NCAA expanded the championship tournament field to 65 teams. The 64-team bracket required the use of a “play-in game,” and that game needed a host.
The play-in game would kick off the tournament. While the game would mean a great deal to those competing in it, it would have little meaning to the rest of the basketball world. Prior to the 68 team expansion, the game matched up teams that would fight for the right to play a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The NCAA wanted to make sure these athletes got a real NCAA experience, even if none ever advanced past a second game in the tournament.
This is where the Dayton community stepped up. It is one thing to host games of well-known teams, but finding out on Sunday which relatively unknown teams will play at your arena on Tuesday is quite another, especially considering that these teams are unlikely to bring many fans. It is another to find out on Sunday who is coming to play on Tuesday, knowing those schools will not bring throngs of enthusiastic fans to the venue.
Dayton, wanting to prove it belongs among the elite venues in the NCAA, wanted to host this game. The community took pride in it, even if the teams that were playing weren’t the elite teams. The goal was to show the sports world and the NCAA that Dayton could provide a positive and unforgettable experience for the athletes. Dayton embraced the role of the underdog, just like the teams they were watching on the court. The community set out to prove to the NCAA that they wanted this game and deserved to host it.
In 2011, the NCAA further expanded the tournament field to 68 and rewarded Dayton for years of providing a world-class experience for play-in game participants by creating the First Four. Big Hoopla, Dayton’s local organizing committee for the First Four, established ways to use hosting the First Four as a tool for business economic development. The First Four has also made a profound impact by giving back to the community. Since 2012, the Big Hoopla has donated over 40,000 First Four tickets to members of the U.S. military and local students.
According to Jacquie Powell of the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dayton has become “a prominent fixture” on the Road to the Final Four and has garnered name recognition and reputation beyond the bounds of college basketball.
UD Arena will host First Four games until 2022. After that, other communities will compete for the right to host the next set of games. Dayton will be among the competitors and has no plans to go quietly. The school is putting the final touches on a $72 million arena renovation scheduled for completion by its 50th birthday later this year.