People who voted for the downtown arena in 2004 with hopes of watching NCAA Tournament basketball won again on Tuesday.
The NCAA awarded 2021 first- and second-round games – six games spread over three days – to Intrust Bank Arena as part of its announcement of championship sites from 2019 to 2022.
The first-round games will be played on Friday, March 19, 2021, with the second round on Sunday, March 21. The events will mark the third NCAA basketball events at the arena, joining the 2011 women’s tournament and the 2018 men’s first and second rounds.
“Three is a streak,” Wichita State athletic director Darron Boatright said Tuesday. “Many people worked for it, fought for it. Thank you to those who think big.”
Wichita State University will serve as host for the 2021 games. As is the case in 2018, NCAA rules prohibit host schools from playing at their site, so the Shockers will go elsewhere if they qualify for the tournament.
The arena, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, Visit Wichita, Sedgwick County and the city helped with the bid in 2018 and 2021.
“Landing the 2018 tournament was significant, but our goal all along has been to make Wichita a regular host,” WSU associate athletic director Brad Pittman said in a news release. “We’re grateful for the many groups that pulled together to make this happen.”
WSU, Pittman said, can earn an honorarium of up to $200,000 from the NCAA, depending on the success of the weekend. Some of that money may be spent on tournament expenses, he said.
Tuesday’s news puts Wichita back in the NCAA’s rotation for the first time since the 1970s, when games were regularly played on campus. Wichita last hosted the men’s tournament in 1994 at the Kansas Coliseum. The school held NCAA games at its on-campus arena in 1956, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1978 and 1981.
Returning those games to Wichita was a major goal of proponents of the downtown arena.
“I spoke daily about this (before the 2004 vote),” said Bob Hanson, president of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission. “The most-often asked question was ‘Can we get an NCAA Tournament?’”
That answer is yes, even with the smallest capacity – roughly 15,000 for basketball – among the arenas in Des Moines, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Omaha and St. Louis that compete for the early rounds and regionals. Those arenas can hold range from roughly 2,000 to 4,000 more than Intrust Bank Arena.
“Our industry is competitive as it is, when we go after concerts and different events,” said Intrust Bank Arena general manager A.J. Boleski. “I think this one – the NCAA Tournament – is probably the most competitive.
“It wouldn’t be possible without the facility we have.”
Des Moines and Tulsa are hosts for the early rounds in 2019. Kansas City’s Sprint Center will hold a regional. In 2020, St. Louis and Omaha are sites for the first weekend.
Organizers credit Wichita’s support of basketball, which is given a chance to shine through WSU’s outstanding men’s team, as a key element. Pittman, who led WSU’s work on the bid, said he felt confident about Tuesday’s announcement because of the arena, the community support for basketball and the NCAA’s desire to spread out its sites among cities.
“You highlight what you do well,” Pittman said. “For our community, basketball is king. People love Shocker basketball.”
The inclusion of a fan fest, organizers think, helped the 2018 bid and was included in 2021.
“They see us as a very good basketball community,” Hanson said. “They see the community pulling together to make this a good bid.”