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Kansas City makes move for NCAA title bids

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Sunday, June 23, 2013, at 7:49 p.m.

With 89 championships in 23 sports, crossing three divisions for men and women, awarding NCAA title sites had been a haphazard exercise.

One sport at a time, a year or two in advance.

Now, the NCAA is coordinating the march, and by the end of this year, it will have selected host cities for some 500 preliminary and championship events for a four-year period beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

Kansas City, home to several NCAA championship events through the years, is greedy.

“We have a lot of offer,” said Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “And we have plenty of interests.”

And much to gain in economic impact from filled hotels and restaurants.

Nelson said Kansas City expects to cast a wide net for championship events and would love to land at least one major championship a year. Proposals will be coordinated from the sports commission office and will include partnerships with the city’s professional sports teams and area colleges and administrators.

For instance, Kansas City plans to bid for the Division II football championship, working with the Kansas City-based Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association and Sporting Kansas City.

Why the soccer team? Its venue, 19,000-seat Sporting Park, is a possibility to host the event.

The dare-to-be-different approach could be a winner, according to an NCAA official.

“As communities define winning strategies, we’ll ask why are you bidding for this event? What are you doing to reinvent the championship?” said Jeff Jarnecke, NCAA associate director of championships and alliances. “Submitting the requisite material won’t be enough. We’ll want to see commitment and strategies to develop and grow the championship.”

In the past 15 years, Kansas City has been the site of a variety of Division I NCAA championships: the women’s basketball Final Four in 1998 and wrestling in 2003 at Kemper Arena, volleyball at Sprint Center in 2010 and men’s basketball regionals on a consistent basis.

All played to full houses or near capacity and received good reviews from the NCAA and organizers.

Kansas City is interested in those championships and others, such as Division I soccer, ice hockey and track and field — perhaps at Kansas’ new track stadium under construction. There’s also interest in luring the Division II sports festival, an Olympic-style series of championships.

In the fall, the festival includes men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball — bringing hundreds of athletes to one site over a few days. Orlando, Fla., Louisville, Ky., Birmingham, Ala., and Houston are among the cities that have played host to festivals for either fall, winter or spring sports since 2004.

This week, the NCAA is hosting a symposium to educate cities on the process, and Kansas City officials will be among the 200 representatives from potential host sites. The online bidding runs from July 15 to September 16 and sites will be announced in December.

There are a few exceptions.

The men’s and women’s Final Four won’t be part of the timeline. The men’s event is scheduled through 2016 and cities looking to bid for 2017 through 2020 will receive specifications by Sept. 16. Future sites will be announced in fall 2014.

At that point bidding for regionals, always of interest for Kansas City, will begin. Currently, regionals are set through 2015.

Division I baseball’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb., signed a 25-year contract with the NCAA in 2008. Oklahoma City is attempting to land a similar deal to keep Division I softball’s Women’s College World Series, which is locked up there through 2014.

The Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) title game will remain in Frisco, Texas, through the 2015 season, and the Division I men’s and women’s golf championships work with the Golf Channel for its championships.

But everything else — 82 of the 89 championships — is up for grabs, and Kansas City expects to play to its strengths.

Sprint Center opened in 2007 with moments like this in mind. The arena has six locker rooms and can play host to basketball, volleyball and ice hockey. The Power & Light District sits across the street, and the city closes a stretch of Grand Boulevard for big events such as the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament.

That event, one of college basketball’s most successful conference tournaments, turns Kansas City into a sports fair, creating a remarkable atmosphere for the teams and their fans. The Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association estimated the economic impact of that event, plus the NCAA regional, NAIA and MIAA tournaments this year at about $22 million.

Kansas City knows the competition will be fierce for the championship events. Indianapolis, Louisville and Charlotte, N.C., are also college-sports minded. And within an easy drive of Kansas City, St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Omaha have successfully operated college championship events.

“It’s really kind of a scary time,” Nelson said. “So many good cities will be bidding. But we’ll make a strong case.”

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