Kevin Sarver hardly was surprised to hear Monday that the NCAA basketball tournament was coming back to Omaha in 2015.
Sarver is the Creighton associate athletic director who served as tournament director for the 2008 and 2012 games played in Omaha. Based on what he had heard, and just as important what he hadn't heard, Sarver figured Omaha stood a good chance of getting back in the tournament rotation in either 2014 or 2015.
“We had gotten high marks across the board, whether it was the feedback we received from ADs or conference commissioners or the NCAA,” Sarver said. “We also had received few complaints, which is just as important.
“I think the fact that the NCAA knows us and knows what it is getting here makes Omaha very attractive. They know we're going to get it done and they're not going to have to hold our hands.”
Omaha learned Monday that it would host second- and third-round games of the 2015 tournament at CenturyLink Center. The second-round games will be played on Friday, March 20, with the winners of those four games advancing to two games that will be played on Sunday, March 22.
Other 2015 second- and third-round sites selected Monday are Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio and Seattle. The 2015 Final Four will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Sarver said Omaha had bid on hosting second- and third-round games in either 2014 and 2015, as well as regional games in either year.
The NCAA awarded 2015 regionals to Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston and Syracuse, N.Y. Cleveland and Los Angeles will host in arenas, while domed stadiums will be used in Houston and Syracuse.
Omaha has never hosted the regional round of the tournament. It has hosted preliminary round games in 1977 at the Civic Auditorium and in 2008 and 2012 at CenturyLink.
“I don't think we're disappointed that we didn't get a regional,” Sarver said. “We're happy. It takes a lot of work and effort to host any round of the tournament. Having hosted in 2012, it would have been difficult to host in 2014 but it's something we could have handled.
“The way it worked out might be the best-case scenario for us.”
Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men's basketball, said 53 cities expressed a desire to be a host for a round of the tournament. Acknowledging that competition to serve as a host site is fierce, Sarver said Omaha has some factors that work in its favor.
One is the support it receives from fans.
“When it comes to butts in the seats,” Sarver said, “Omaha is off the charts, and that's very important to the NCAA.”
The first session of the 2012 tournament in Omaha drew 16,829. The Friday night second session drew 17.051, while 16,998 attended Sunday's session. The CenturyLink seats 17,260 for basketball.
Sarver said tournament operations have gone smoothly because “there is a group of 25 to 30 individuals that have taken great ownership of the event. They want to see it succeed.
“The other thing we have going for us is the building itself,” Sarver said. “The convention center allows us to do things that other venues can't. Our back-of-house space is outstanding. Teams can drive their buses right into the building. TV can set its trucks up inside. Our building is a Final Four setup that a lot of venues just can't match.”
Sarver said many of the key personnel involved in running the basketball tournament also are involved in the operation of Omaha's premier sporting event, the College World Series. The CWS is played each June at TD Ameritrade Park, which like the CenturyLink Center is operated by the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.
“One of the things we learned in 2008 is that we had to forget about a lot of things we do with the CWS because the basketball tournament is a different animal,” Sarver said. “But what Omaha does for the CWS shows the NCAA that the city knows how to take care of the teams and the student-athletes.
“The people that can made a tremendous difference — the police, the convention bureau, the people in charge of the team hotels — are the same in a lot of cases for both events. Even the bus drivers. Those are the people that can help put you over the top when you're running something like this because they know what they're doing.”
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