When the NCAA Tournament first expanded to 65 teams (thanks Mountain West), there was no indication that Dayton, Ohio was going to become such an important part of the college basketball landscape.
I think that most people believed that the addition of the 65th team would be short lived, that it would last a couple of seasons before something changed to make the opening round game unnecessary. Well, we were all wrong on that count.
With the expansion to 68 teams last year, there are now four games held in Dayton, the same location for all of the extra contests since Northwestern State faced Winthrop back in 2001. The NCAA announced Monday that those four games will continue to be in Dayton through the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
This is in some ways a disappointment for the people of Dayton. They were hoping for a long term deal, a bargain that would keep that opening round action there indefinitely.
And they should be disappointed. When the tournament first expanded, who would have wanted to host that game. Most people are more focused on the top of the bracket than the bottom rung. There was no reason to go out of your way to be in charge of teams No. 64 and 65.
But Dayton embraced its charge, and the game drew great national attention. At the time, it was the only game on Tuesday night (the NIT didn't schedule against it, unlike the extra tournaments now). People were focused.
Over time, the popularity of the game increased. People got together to watch the little guys slug it out. After all, the winner gets credit for an NCAA Tournament victory, something that most of the schools involved would never dream of if they were just slotted into the 16-seed.
The game is important to the schools, and it has become important to Dayton which wants to host from now on. They make the game -- now games -- their own, and they see it as a real benefit to the community to keep bringing in these teams. This past season, the games even drew President Barack Obama and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to the arena.
There would be no other reason for either of those two to be in Dayton in March.That kind of attention isn't lost on the city, the school, or the people of the community.
Not that I matter in the same way as those two, but attending the opening games in Dayton has always been on my list of things to do. If the Master's is a tradition unlike any other, attending these games is one of those traditions that you would like to have.
With the tournament always beginning in one spot, it helps to funnel the basketball world to one spot every year to witness the birth of the madness that marks the rest of March and the beginning of April. The NCAA did the right thing by keeping the games there. Now they need to continue to do the right thing and let Dayton host the First Four as long as it wants to be in charge.