The NCAA is holding off on declaring sites for the First Four of the 2016 tournament and beyond. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Multiple reports out of Dayton over the past couple of days say the NCAA rejected an informal bid from the city to extend its contract to hold the NCAA tournament's First Four beyond 2015. NCAA director David Worlock, who helps oversee the tournament, confirmed that the NCAA will wait until next year to confirm sites for the 2016 tournament and beyond, but the current denial doesn't mean that Dayton won't keep the opening round going forward.
“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,” Worlock told the Dayton Business Journal. “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."
This is a very smart decision on the NCAA's part, despite Dayton's significant support of the event since its inception as a single opening-round game over a decade ago. With the opening round having grown to four games over two nights, there are more teams involved and more complications in terms of travel from the opening-round site to other subregionals for the teams that advance. The NCAA's growing emphasis on reduced travel for NCAA teams makes a reevaluation of this process an obvious next step, although a non-subregional site (meaning not holding the opening round at pre-assigned Round of 64 venues) would almost certainly need to be centrally located.
Also, while the city of Dayton has shown significant hosting chops, the concept of "being sent to Dayton" has become stigmatized. No one wants to be sent there, condemned to a game that doesn't really feel like the NCAA tournament in a city that's not exactly tourist-friendly or weather-happy in March. Just a change of location may help ease that dissonance for teams assigned a "first-round" game.
Because of how well the city has supported the event, you'd imagine that Dayton will get every bit of consideration for 2016 and beyond once the formal process for bidding on the games opens, but having the NCAA re-look at this phase of its marquee event makes sense. There is no need to make a long-term commitment to one city when there are others that may be happy to host and show well. The NCAA has long maintained that the opening round is a legitimate part of the tournament at large. It's right to at least consider whether other cities or venues could provide a more satisfying overall experience for the teams and their fans. This isn't a rejection of Dayton. There's just no reason for the NCAA to commit beyond 2015 without at least investigating alternatives first.