NCAA OK with Dayton playing in First Four at home
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In an effort to make it a fair contest, men’s teams can’t play on their home court during the NCAA tournament.
At least, that’s the goal. The Dayton Flyers could upset that plan.
Every March, the University of Dayton hosts the NCAA’s First Four, four games over two days which open the annual 68-team extravaganza.
Heading into the weekend, the Flyers are 19-9 and are 7-6 in the competitive Atlantic 10.
What would happen, when the selection committee starts seeding teams in 2½ weeks, if the Flyers fell into that part of the bracket? Home game?
“We don’t have a backup facility that we would go to,” said NCAA selection committee chair Ron Wellman. “So that would be the case.”
The other options are not workable. The selection committee won’t hold it against Dayton if it is in position for an at-large bid. Also, it wouldn’t be fair to bump the Flyers into the second-round solely to avoid the home-court problem.
Nope, should the tumblers fall correctly — or incorrectly, if you’re an opposing team — the Flyers would be playing before a partisan crowd if they got into a first-round game.
Dayton coach Archie Miller is not exactly banking on it, however.
“The goal of our program is to be in the tournament every year,” said the third-year Flyers coach. “Once you’re in, it feels like the greatest gift in the world. If they send you to Anchorage, Alaska, or send you to California, you’re just so excited to be in the tournament. That’s a big part of it.
“The fact that we do have the NCAA tournament here — it’s never really crossed our minds, like, ‘Hey, if we get in, hopefully we can play in Dayton.’”
Wellman said there are always partisan crowds in the NCAA tournament, even though teams haven’t been permitted to play on their home floor for more than 20 years. So it’s no big deal.
“We consider the location of the arena in proximity of the team all the time,” said Wellman, also the athletic director at Wake Forest. “There are always home crowds, more of one group of fans compared to another group in just about any arena that we play.”
Few know it, but the University of Dayton Arena has hosted more NCAA men’s tournament games than any other venue — 101 games, with Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium a distant second with 83.
It has been home to the First Four every year since it began in 2011. Before that, it hosted the one play-in game — which the NCAA called the Opening Round — from 2001 to 2010.
To bump up attendance, the school links the NCAA tournament games with season-ticket sales. Fans buy the tickets without knowing who’s coming in — usually an Arkansas-Little Rock or Vermont instead of Duke or Kansas. Over the years, the appetizer to the big tournament usually draws between 7,000 and 12,000 fans.
There’s no question if Dayton were in the First Four that it would be a guaranteed sell-out. But that might also be the case in the 13,455-seat arena if any school within a 3-hour drive such as Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State or in-state Xavier, Ohio, Toledo or Kent State were playing.
Even if the Flyers made it in, Dayton athletic director Tim Wabler figures it wouldn’t be a huge home-court advantage.
“There’s over 70 companies and organizations that have already bought about 3,000 tickets, primarily through the local organizing committee’s efforts,” Wabler said. “Even though our season-ticket holders do a nice job in supporting the First Four, it’s really much more of a local event. It would be a different crowd than what we would typically see at our games.”
Miller can just imagine what the opposing team might say about having to play against his team on its home floor.
“I do think it would be overblown, a feeling of, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to play Dayton in Dayton!’” he said. “The crowd would be a pro-Dayton crowd, but the environment, the setup, the structure, the in-and-out of the arena, the game-time feel — the whole deal would be different.”
It’s instructive that Dayton has played at home in the NCAA tournament before. In 1985, before a packed house, the Flyers took on Villanova in the first round ... and lost 51-49 to the eventual national champions.
Miller’s not worried about any history. The Flyers had a six-game winning streak ended with a 79-53 blow-out loss at Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday night. There are still three Atlantic 10 games remaining, starting with Saturday’s home game against Massachusetts.
All Miller cares about is getting into the bracket announced on March 16.
“If they said our name, I’d play in Russia,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter to me.”
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