COLUMN: US Bank Arena has five years to clean up for NCAA Tournament

Don't embarrass us
Posted at 1:52 PM, Apr 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-19 03:03:52-04

CINCINNATI -- The snub is over - almost. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is finally coming back to Cincinnati after what will be a 30-year wait. 

It has been much too long for one of the best college basketball cities in America - a metro that has routinely sent two teams, Xavier and Cincinnati, to the tournament in the past three decades and added a third with Northern Kentucky University last season. But better late than never.

Here's hoping that US Bank Arena won't embarrass us when it hosts first- and second-round games of the 2022 tournament. UC will be the host school, the NCAA announced Tuesday.

It's a major coup for the Cincinnati USA Sports Commission, UC and the city, as well as the 42-year-old arena, which hasn't been picked to host men's basketball tournament games since 1992 as it aged and was passed over for newer, brighter and fancier palaces.

"We've been working really aggressively behind the scenes for the past four years," said Jackie Reau, chair of the commission. "We're thrilled to be able to host such a marquee event and showcase Cincinnati."

Reau said the renaissance of downtown and Over-the-Rhine helped win the day.

"I think the NCAA took a look at what's happening in downtown Cincinnati and knew it was going to be a great environment for fans, coaches and players with our new hotel properties, the vibrant restaurant scene and just all the exciting things happening downtown," she said.

The NCAA surely didn't pick Cincinnati because of its arena. It may be fine for a minor-league hockey team, but it comes up short for major events. 

You may remember that US Bank Arena was snubbed by both UC and the Republican National Committee in the past two years. UC, which is renovating its Fifth Third Arena and needed a place for its men's basketball team to play next season, chose NKU's smaller but modern arena instead.

The Republicans considered Cincinnati as a site for their 2016 national convention, but they said they eliminated the Queen City, in part, because of the arena's smallish capacity and lack of amenities.

They didn't say it has an ugly paint job inside and out, but it does.

US Bank Arena did get a $14 million in 1997 upgrade when it  replaced all of its seats, and it recently added more locker rooms. But when Xavier's and UC's renovations are complete, it will be far outclassed by the three nearby college arenas.

Cincinnati was an almost regular stop for the men's tournament in the two decades after the arena opened as Riverfront Coliseum in 1975. It hosted the men's regionals in 1979 and 1987 and first- and second-round games in 1988 and 1992.

Some of those games were legendary. We got to see Larry Bird and undefeated Indiana State beat Oklahoma and Arkansas to win the Midwest Regional in '79. In 1987, it was Indiana beating Duke and LSU on the way to the national championship. Bobby Knight got so mad that he pounded the scorer's table with his fist and the phone bounced a foot into the air. 

In '88, Kentucky advanced by beating Southern and Maryland. In 1992, 13th-seeded Miami almost knocked off No. 4 North Carolina before falling 68-63.

Since 1992, when CIncinnati made the Final Four, UC has made the tournament 21 times, Xavier 19. And nobody has played a single tournament game in Cincinnati.

US Bank Arena has had some time in the NCAA spotlight. It hosted the 1997 women's basketball Final Four and the 1996 men's hockey Frozen Four. It held an NCAA hockey regional last month.

It was a surprise that the NCAA ever brought hockey back to the arena after the ice melted during the Frozen Four semifinals and the games had to be delayed. When they continued, it was more like playing on Icee than on ice.

Maybe this will be the catalyst for US Bank owners to give the old arena more than a fresh coat of paint.

In 2015, Nederlander Entertainment announced plans for a $200 million renovation, but it hasn't begun.

Five years, though, could be plenty of time for that to happen.

Let's hope it does, and let's hope we won't have to wait 30 years for the next men's basketball tournament visit.

The NCAA also announced that Dayton will continue to host the First Four tournament games through 2022. UD Arena has hosted every First Four game since their inception in 2011, plus some second- and third-round games. 

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