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Keeping a familiar venue intact
Two games will match the tournament’s lowest seeds, Nos. 65 through 68, with the winners advancing as No. 16 seeds to play a top seed. The other two games will match the last four of the 37 at-large qualifiers.
The 68-team field will be announced March 13, with first-round games taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15-16.
The “First Four” format had been the last undecided question after the NCAA’s much-debated decision to expand its marquee event. The NCAA announced in April that it would add three teams to the field, the first expansion since the tournament went from 64 teams to 65 in 2001.
Dayton, Ohio, has hosted the early “play in” game every year since then.
Gene Smith, athletic director at Ohio State and the new chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, cited the sizable crowds over the past decade in picking Dayton to host the inaugural First Four.
The NCAA didn’t commit to holding the first four games in Dayton beyond 2011.
“We explored different options, including playing the first-round games at multiple sites as well as the possibility of playing all games on one day, but we came to the conclusion that Dayton is the best location to host all four games for the 2011 tournament,” he said.
“Moving forward, we will conduct a thorough evaluation, as we do with all rounds of the championship, with the student-athlete experience being our top priority.”
The NCAA decided against a larger expansion to 80 or even 96 teams. It settled on 68 and its new 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting not only ensures that every game will be televised but gives the NCAA sole authority to expand again.
All four First Four games will be broadcast on Turner’s truTV cable channel.
The at-large teams will be seeded where they would normally be placed in the bracket, meaning a first-round game between two No. 10 seeds would result in the winner advancing to play a No. 7 seed.
There was concern that the winners will have an advantage in the second round, having already played and won, and committee members have acknowledged that some big-name teams could be ousted early.