March 26, 2008

NCAA tourney wins Raleigh raves

RBC Center, NCSU get high praise for savvy organization, boosting hopes for a reprise 

By Lorenzo Perez, Staff Writer, The News & Observer

RALEIGH - Efforts to raise the local profile of the NCAA Tournament this weekend drew strong reviews from the NCAA, boosting hopes that Raleigh could host another regional round of the men's basketball championship within four years.

NCAA officials in Raleigh gave the RBC Center and the city "an A-plus" for its hosting of the opening two rounds, NCAA associate tournament director David Worlock said Tuesday.

"The folks at N.C. State and the RBC Center, you can tell they've done this before. It was a first-class event," said Worlock, who said Raleigh would be a strong contender to host future tournament rounds. "Clearly, this is one of the basketball hotbeds in the country."

N.C. State University, the official tournament host, also hosted opening rounds of the 2004 tournament at the arena, and university officials plan to submit bids this summer for regional rounds in 2011 or 2012 NCAA Tournaments. They hope to land higher-profile regional semifinal and final rounds the second weekend of the 65-team event.

Economic impact figures for this year's tournament will not be available for several weeks, said Scott Dupree, the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau's director of sports marketing and co-chairman of the local organizing committee.

With a basketball seating capacity of 19,477, the RBC Center is smaller than this year's regional finals sites in Houston and Detroit. Yet in terms of capacity, Worlock said, it compares favorably to this year's two other regional finals arenas, the Charlotte Bobcats Arena and Phoenix's US Airways Center.

NCSU Associate Athletic Director Dick Christy, the local tournament manager, noted that the NCAA's track record suggests that RBC Center's size would not work against it.

"I think we did nothing but help ourselves this year in showing that this city, this site and this school is ready to be a regional site," Christy said.

With sellout crowds at the RBC Center, the weekend was not glitch-free. Worlock acknowledged Monday that the giant NCAA logo on the arena court caused players to slip, prompting tournament officials to treat the floor before and during Sunday's games. And the lack of nearby bars and restaurants left fans with few options between Friday's day and evening games.

A local host committee of boosters from local government, NCSU and businesses, including The News & Observer, spent 12 months on a plan. Banners draped on the arena, downtown buildings and at Raleigh-Durham International Airport welcomed tournament fans; brochures stocked in local hotels and a Web site linked to the sites of the schools seeded to play in Raleigh listed sports bars and other recreational options.

The committee spent an estimated $82,500, according to the convention and visitors bureau.

"From what I can tell, the NCAA clearly recognized and was impressed with what we did as a community in terms of embracing the event," Dupree said. or (919) 829-4643