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The NCAAs should blow into the Windy City
By Sandy Stevens
The question, “Why not Chicago?” popped into my head in the middle of the night. Had I read another comment that day from disappointed fans shut out of seats to the 2013 NCAA Div. I Championships in Des Moines?
I don’t know, but the more I thought about it in my waking moments and considered the sites of the 31 straight tournaments to-date that I’ve announced, the more it made sense: the NCAAs should held in the Windy City.
For starters, consider the city’s center-of-the-country location — served by two airports — and the sightseeing, dining and entertainment available to visitors. And the area boasts two NCAA Division I universities that could serve as co-hosts.
“We’re similar to St. Louis in that we are easily accessible,” said Northwestern Coach Drew Pariano, “and the NCAA should feel comfortable with the fact that we are located in the hotbed of a historically strong collegiate wrestling area.
“Even those on the West and East coasts could come into town with relative ease and enjoy the four or five days they are here.”
“From a fan’s standpoint, it’s one of the greatest cities in the country, if not the world,” said Jim Heffernan, head coach at the University of Illinois, which hosts the NCAA Div. I Men’s Tennis Championships this spring … as well as the Big Ten Wrestling Championships, two weeks before the NCAAs.
“Anything you look for, for a national or international event, you have access to in Chicago. Anything fans want to do before, during or after the tournament is accessible to them.”
A site at the top of the discussion would have to be the Allstate Arena (originally Rosemont Horizon), home of the Chicago Wolves. Depending on the event, the arena offers up to 18,500 seats. Also, most major U.S. hotel chains have a nearby presence, and eating spots abound.
But Chicago makes sense for multiple reasons, Pariano said.
“We have a great wrestling community and a strong concentration of wrestling enthusiasts in the Chicagoland area,” the Wildcat coach said. “The Big Ten Conference would become involved, and the University of Illinois is an extremely helpful resource as well. Partnered appropriately, we could make an NCAA Wrestling Championship an event that the entire city and region would embrace.”
“Who knows,” Pariano added, “maybe the athletic directors at universities like the University of Chicago, Loyola and DePaul would take note of the tournament’s success and actually consider adding Division I programs. That may be a stretch but thinking in that manner is the only way that we can grow on the (Division I) collegiate level.”
“More than anything,” Heffernan pointed out, “there’s a large population of wrestlers in the state, huge participation in the high schools.” (The Illinois State Athletic Association reports that 438 high schools sponsor wrestling.)
Anthony Holman, NCAA manager of Division I Wrestling, said, “Illinois has a strong student base and two Division I schools that sponsor wrestling. It’s a good hotbed.
“On the surface, (the site) would seem ideal. One initial concern would be securing reasonable hotel rates.”
That’s just one of the issues anyone assembling a bid for an NCAA championship must address.
Dick Simmons, associate director of athletics at Cornell College, will be the tournament director when Cornell plays host to the Div. III Nationals in Cedar Rapids in March. He also served in a lead role when Cornell and Coe College, along with the Iowa Conference, co-hosted the Div. III tournaments in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Simmons recalled that work began on the schools’ first bid in 2005, with the support and involvement of the Cedar Rapids Business Bureau. The bid was placed in 2006, with the subsequent awarding of the NCAAs for three years.
Simmons stressed two main concerns in the background work for any potential bidders. The first, the budget proposal, “covers everything from hiring workers to hospitality to marketing and promotion,” he said.
Second is the facility.
“If you don’t have a good venue, it’s just not going to work,” Simmons said.
The Iowa groups’ initial bid also included a booklet illustrating the support of such influential people as Dan Gable, the state’s governor and the Cedar Rapids mayor, Simmons said.
A Chicago bid has a champion in Bill Vail, senior vice president of U.S. Equities. Vail has been assistant competition director of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, competition manager for the Atlanta Olympic Games, coach of the 1992 Olympic Team, treasurer and chairman of the finance committee for USA Wrestling and team leader and coach for Olympic, World Cup and World Championship competition.
He was also highly involved in Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games and now serves on the board of World Sport Chicago.
“It there’s any city that should host a major sporting event, especially a world class sporting event, it should be Chicago, because of the amenities we bring,” Vail said. “We have the experience, the knowledge, the background, and we want to welcome people to this city.”
Oklahoma City plays host to the 2014 tournament, but the NCAA will entertain bids this spring for 2015 and beyond, Holman said, noting that several cities, universities or organizations have already indicated interest.
Vail would like to see Chicago assemble a bid for 2016 and if awarded the tournament, use it as springboard for something even bigger for the youth of tomorrow.
“Our city is ready for and has the capability to do an NCAA tournament,” he said. “We are committed to amateur sport.”
“We represent a very diverse group of people, and although we are technically located in the Midwest, we bring that big city feel to the NCAA Wrestling Championships,” Northwestern’s Pariano said. “We couldn’t be more excited to enter the discussion.”
Why not Chicago?