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Why OKC landing even one event in 2022-26 NCAA bid cycle is crucial

When Oklahoma City hosted the 2014 NCAA Division-I wrestling championships, it was during a time when NCAA events regularly came to the city. If OKC does not get an event in the current NCAA bid cycle, it will go more than a decade without hosting a non-softball NCAA championship. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHHOMAN]
When Oklahoma City hosted the 2014 NCAA Division-I wrestling championships, it was during a time when NCAA events regularly came to the city. If OKC does not get an event in the current NCAA bid cycle, it will go more than a decade without hosting a non-softball NCAA championship. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHHOMAN]

Sue Hollenbeck remembers the moment she realized her nose was almost touching her computer screen.

Her mother’s long-ago warning echoed in her head.

“If you’re too close to the TV,” her mom had said, “you’ll go blind.”

But Hollenbeck was willing to take the risk earlier this month. As the director of sports business at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, it was her job to complete the city’s bid for four years’ worth of NCAA events. She had to cross every t. She had to dot every i.

“I was literally four inches away from my computer screen trying to make sure that I had everything set,” she said with a laugh.

She knows, after all, how critical this bid cycle is.

Three years ago when the NCAA announced hosts for postseason events from 2018-22, OKC was completely shut out. No basketball. No wrestling. No volleyball. Oklahoma City, of course, has become a long-term host for the Women’s College World Series, so that event wasn’t up for bid. But none the other sports, many of which we’d come to expect in the city, were awarded to OKC.

That makes getting an event this time around pivotal for Oklahoma City. Even though Hollenbeck and Co. are leading the city's bids for the first time since the All-Sports Association dissolved, they aren't new to trying to lure events to OKC or working with the NCAA. They have become the city's reps with the WCWS.

Even with changes, no one in Oklahoma City is denying the importance of this bid cycle, which culminates in October when the NCAA announces where a vast majority of its 2022-26 regional and championship sites.

OKC needs to be on the list.

If it isn’t?

Well, we’re not losing the WCWS or anything. But if OKC wants to land NCAA events regularly, if it doesn't want out of sight to become out of mind, getting something this time will be vital.

Oklahoma City bid on four Division-I sports: women’s volleyball championships; women’s gymnastics championships; wrestling championships; and first- and second-round men’s basketball regionals.

“We did put in several different bids,” Hollenbeck said. “But no matter how many bids we put in, getting one or possibly two awarded to Oklahoma City in that four-year cycle from ’22 to ’26 is a win no matter what.”

There was a time one or two would’ve been a poor run for OKC.

Used to be, you couldn’t turn around in March without bumping into a basketball regional. We had a men’s regional or a women’s regional pretty much every year for a time there.

When we didn’t have basketball, we had a wrestling championship or a women’s volleyball championship.

Truth be told, OKC might've gotten too many events. We got saturated, especially adding all the Division-II, Division-III and Big 12 events over the years, and it got to the point where tickets went unsold and seats went unfilled.

So, how is OKC trying to get back in the NCAA event business?

For starters, the city bid only on Division-I events this time around. Hollenbeck points to the changes in OKC over the past decade; we’ve become a major-league city and sports fans here aren’t as easily wooed by Division-II or Division-III competition.

“We weren’t convinced that we could produce a quality, sold-out D-II event,” Hollenbeck said. “If we’re going to bid on something, we want to make sure that we can do it well, that we can sell tickets, that there’s plenty of people in the stands for those student-athletes.”

But the competition for NCAA events has grown significantly, especially for Division-I events. More cities have more facilities capable of hosting regional or championship events. Just a glance around our neck of the woods tells the story; places like Tulsa and Wichita have new downtown arenas, for example, that didn’t exist a dozen years ago.

Plus, cities of all sizes see the benefits of hosting NCAA events. Some are willing to lose money on the event just to have the prestige that goes along with hosting it. Others will package private and public funds into their bids to entice the NCAA.

“The NCAA is not stupid,” Hollenbeck said. “If they don’t have to pay an extra X amount of money, they’re not gonna want to pay an extra X amount of money.

“And there’s definitely a lot of money that flies.”

So, does OKC stand a chance?

Hollenbeck believes so. Even though this is the first time the Convention and Visitors Bureau has been in charge of the bids — the job was previously done by the now-defunct Oklahoma City All-Sports Association — Hollenbeck feels good about the alliances that have been built. The Big 12 is on board along with OU and OSU as NCAA-member-institution partners. ASM Global, which manages Chesapeake Energy Arena, has bought in, too.

There have been frank conversations between all those folks about what to bid on and how to do it.

“Everyone has really stepped up and said, ‘We want to be able to put our best foot forward,’” Hollenbeck said. “I really do believe that if the case happens to be there we don’t get awarded anything again — which would be heartbreaking — I really felt like we put in some quality bids.”

The stakes are high. If OKC misses out, it will go a decade without a non-softball NCAA championship event.

That’s why getting even one is important.

“Some people may be like, ‘You just got one? Well, that’s not a win,’” Hollenbeck said. “Well, one is a win. One is an absolute win no matter what.

“Two is a party.”

On Oct. 23, we'll know if it's a celebration or a pity party.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

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Upcoming events

Even though Oklahoma City got shut out in the last NCAA bid cycle, there are still plenty of NCAA events coming to our state. Here's a look at what's on the docket. The events are Division-I championships unless otherwise noted:

Women's gymnastics regionals: April 2-4, Norman/OU

Men’s and women’s tennis: May 14-23, Stillwater/OSU

Men’s golf regionals: May 18-20, Norman/OU

Women's College World Series: May 28-June 3, Oklahoma City

Men’s and women’s cross country: Nov. 21, Stillwater/OSU

Men’s golf regionals: May 16-19, 2021, Stillwater/OSU

Women's College World Series: 2021, Oklahoma City

Men’s gymnastics: April 15-16, 2022, Norman/OU

Women’s golf regionals: May 9-11, 2022, Stillwater/OSU

Women's College World Series: 2022-35, Oklahoma City

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Final offer

Oklahoma City isn't alone in bidding to bring future Division-I NCAA events to our state. In addition to OKC, here's a look at what OU and OSU bid on in the 2022-26 cycle:

OU

Men's gymnastics

Women's gymnastics regionals

Men's and women's tennis (2025 and 2026 only)

Men's and women's golf

Men's and women's golf regionals

OSU

Men's and women's cross country

Men's and women's tennis

Men's and women's golf

OKC

Women's volleyball

First- and second-round men's basketball regionals

Wrestling

Women's gymnastics

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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