BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Crown and Xavier University plan to apply to the NCAA today to bring the NCAA men's basketball tournament back to Cincinnati in 2002 or 2003.
The application, due at the end of the month, puts Cincinnati in contention for first- and second-round games, as well as the chance at a regional.
Because the Crown -- the building (then Riverfront Coliseum) where Larry Bird and Bobby Knight passed through on the way to the Final Four -- seats only 16,800, it is probably in the running only for first- and second-round games.
Bill Hancock, director of Division I men's basketball championships, expects 60-70 cities to apply. The field will be cut to 40 at the end of September, and the 24 sites will be announced Dec. 15-17 after inspections.
The Crown faces stiffer competition than Riverfront did in 1992, the last time Cincinnati hosted the men in the Southeast Regional's first and second rounds. A recent rule allows only four sites to be in the Eastern time zone, and two of those must be in the East Region. That leaves only two for the South and Midwest. Plus, the Crown will be competing with Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., and the University of Dayton Arena in Ohio. In 1992, Riverfront and UD both hosted the preliminary rounds.
"That's not going to happen again because of the close proximity," Hancock said. "The biggest thing (Cincinnati) has to face is the (large) number of new buildings."
The NCAA looks at four factors: airport, hotels, facility, and ability of the host school.
"Cincinnati has always graded high on three of the four. The building will be the key," Hancock said. "The last time we were there it was cold and dark in the media area."
The Crown hopes it has eased NCAA fears with a $14 million renovation that was completed after the 1997 NCAA Women's Final Four. Mike Smith, who runs the Crown as president of Nederlander Arena Management, has heard enough good things from the NCAA to believe the Crown has a chance.
"We've been in discussions with a number of institution and conference officials, and they've all expressed great enthusiasm for us," Smith said.
Hancock said it will help that Xavier hosted the women's Final Four so recently.
"That experience has to be looked upon in a positive light for us," said Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski. "By all accounts it went off well, and the building and the locker rooms are in nice shape."
There is also rich NCAA history on this patch of ground. Bird led Indiana State into the Final Four past Sidney Moncrief and Arkansas in the 1979 Midwest Regional final, and Withrow High School's Rick Calloway came home in 1987 to hit a last-second shot in the 1987 Midwest Final to put Indiana in the Final Four on the way to the national title.
XU hoops to remain on WLW