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NCAA committee evaluates Valley as potential Final Four site

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PHOENIX – The countdown to Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium in February is in full swing. One year later, that same venue will host the College Football National Championship game. If things go well this week, the stadium in Glendale may be on its way to a third consecutive year hosting one of the nation’s biggest sporting events.

A team of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee members arrived in Phoenix Tuesday for a two-day site visit to evaluate Phoenix’s candidacy to host a Final Four. The local partnership behind the bid submitted a formal proposal in May for the right to host a Final Four in 2017, 2019, or 2020.

Committee members are touring venues across the Valley, including University of Phoenix Stadium, other venues would host some of the surrounding activities, including Phoenix Convention Center, which would host a fan fest called “Bracket Town” and Tempe Beach Park, where the March Madness Music Festival would be held.

A decision by the committee is expected this fall.

“When we travel around the country and talk with cities that are interested in hosting the Final Four it really is just those two other events (Super Bowl and College Football National Championship) and possibly the NBA All-Star Game that are mentioned in the same breath with the same kind of interest level,” said Dan Gavitt, vice president of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.

Phoenix has hosted all three of these major events, including the BCS National Championship game in 2007 and 2011.

Phoenix is competing against Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio and St. Louis. Phoenix is the only city in the running that has not hosted a Final Four. Of the cities bidding, Indianapolis, Atlanta and New Orleans have each hosted the event multiple times since 2000. However, committee members do not see Phoenix’s lack of Final Four hosting experience as an obstacle.

“Phoenix is a major media market. It is obviously a vibrant community,” Gavitt said.

“The excitement and enthusiasm of a community that hasn’t hosted before can be a very powerful part of this process. But it’s a national championship and part of what makes it a national championship is that it moves around and its in different areas of the country,” Gavitt said.

If Phoenix lands the bid, it will be the first time in more than 20 years the game will be held west of Texas.

“I have been fortunate enough to be here for a Super Bowl and see the city function in a way for a major event,” said Mark Hollis, athletic director of Michigan State and member of NCAA Division I Basketball Committee.

Arizona State University would be the host institution and involved in the planning.

“Its an exciting time and a lot of work for especially, the Arizona State staff,” Hollis said. “It’s a lot of work to host an event and to collaborate with the NCAA staff and the basketball committee. But at the end of the day it’s a rewarding level of work. You know you’ve done something substantial and means a lot to a lot of people.”

According to statistics provided by the group behind Phoenix’s bid, the event brings in significant money. In 2012 the tournament brought in $135 million to New Orleans. Atlanta, which hosted the 2013 Final Four, brought in $70 million. And although the numbers are not final, the 2014 North Texas tournament projections are at $276 million.