SBJ/May 26-June 1, 2014/Colleges

NCAA finds success in volume

Biggest offering of championships nets big increase in bids

Lost in all of the news about NCAA reform is that the governing body of college sports mostly puts on championships — 89 of them each year.

And while its leaders are contemplating seismic changes in the way the NCAA does business, they’ve already overhauled the way that it awards championships to host cities.

Chicago will host the men’s Frozen Four for the first time in 2017. Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (above) held this year’s tourney.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

In one fell swoop, the NCAA recently handed out 82 championships to more than 500 sites, marking the largest single offering of events in the NCAA’s history.

From swimming and diving to lacrosse, wrestling, cross country, volleyball and several others across all divisions, the NCAA set dates and sites for most of its championships through 2018 in a new streamlined bid process, all of which played out online.

Some sports that traditionally didn’t receive any interest at all received a handful of bids. Others, like hockey’s Frozen Four and volleyball, received as many as 17 bids. The process produced 1,984 bids in all.

For some sports, the new process drew so many bids that “it was a shock to the system,” said Jeff Jarnecke, the NCAA’s director of championships and alliances.

But the new level of interest in its championships created a highly competitive bid process. Every championship, in every sport, in every division received at least two bids, and that wasn’t the case in the past.

“Most of our championships received anywhere from four to six bids and some got many more,” Jarnecke said. “This was the first time that some championships received any bids.”

Before overhauling the bid process and rolling out the new format, the NCAA was in what Jarnecke called “a perpetual bid state.” Championships were put out to bid whenever they became available, and the bidding process was so staggered that potential hosts had a hard time combining events or planning anything innovative.

The NCAA launched its new bid process last year, and awarded championships for a four-year window, from 2014-15 to 2017-18.

Among the more noteworthy outcomes:

Madison Square Garden won the Division I wrestling championships in 2016. The venerable building in New York has not hosted an NCAA championship since it had the Final Four in 1950.

Philadelphia will host five lacrosse championships on the same weekend in both 2015 and 2016. That includes the Divisions I and III championships for women along with the Divisions I, II and III championships for men.

The men’s Frozen Four hockey championship will go to the United Center in Chicago for the first time in 2017.

When the winners were announced at NCAA.com, some potential hosts staged watch parties to learn the outcomes. Kansas City had the most wins, 14 championships, one more than Louisville, Ky., and Salem, Va. The cities learned the outcome of their bidding in December, and the NCAA has spent subsequent months analyzing the process.

“I thought the process was extremely buttoned up,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “One of the best things the NCAA did early on was communicate expectations and encourage bidders to be more creative.”

Each bid from a potential host included four key elements: a budget; facility; key members of the host committee; and bid specifics, such as student-athlete amenities. Most bidders also included a video about the host city or university making the bid, all of which was submitted through an online NCAA portal. Markets previously submitted hard copies of their bids.

One of the benefits to bidding out so many championships at once was the potential to create efficiencies. By knowing that it has certain championships across multiple sports, a city like Kansas City or Philadelphia can negotiate better hotel rates and more amenities, while also securing lower rental rates for the facilities being used, Jarnecke said.
Other efficiencies might include signage that can be repurposed for other championships, and a volunteer base that cities lean on for multiple events.

Five lacrosse titles will be decided over the same weekends in Philadelphia in 2015, 2016.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

The NCAA also hired Anthony Travel, which specializes in university and sports travel, to oversee travel packages, and from that, commissions will be paid to the NCAA.

Winning bids were selected by the committees that oversee each sport. Committees are made up of commissioners, athletic directors and coaches.

Mark Lewis, executive vice president of championships and alliances, oversaw the process for the NCAA, with Jarnecke and Mark Bedics, associate director of championships, running point.

While they were pleased with the response, they anticipate some tweaks the next time a large number of championships go out for bid in 2017.

“We’d like a longer window to get back to the institutions and cities to ask questions,” Jarnecke said. “It would also be nice to go into a market and do some level of pre-negotiation with the hotels. It’s tougher to name the site and then retroactively go back in and negotiate competitive prices.”

Jarnecke and Bedics liked the online format for entries, but they missed more of the personal touch that comes from site visits and interviews. The NCAA had a particularly tough time comparing a site that had hosted an NCAA event to a new market that was bidding for the first time.

The Division I volleyball championship was one of the events to receive the most bids.
Photo by: AP IMAGES

“We want new markets, but that can be a challenge to evaluate,” Jarnecke said. “When everything is done electronically, how do you discern the excitement and enthusiasm around a bid?”

Jarnecke has recommended that one executive, plus a support person, be responsible for the bid process, whether that is Jarnecke on a full-time basis or someone else. Jarnecke and Bedics both have other duties, in addition to running the bidding.

The next bidding cycle for these 82 championships will be 2017 for events that will run 2018-19 through 2021-22.

The men’s and women’s basketball Final Four runs on a separate cycle. Other championships with a long-term location for their event, like the College World Series in Omaha, are excluded as well.

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