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City, NCAA forge 30-year event pact

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It started as a yearly meeting between the NCAA, city and state officials, and representatives of the Indiana Sports Corp., Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association and a few others.

Jack Swarbrick Swarbrick

The meeting almost seven years ago started routinely enough, recalled Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, former ISC Chairman.

But the result was a first-of-its-kind agreement, formalized just this month, that will assure Indianapolis hosts a major NCAA event every year between now and 2039. The deal kicks off with this year’s men’s Final Four, which will be held in the 70,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium April 3-5.

The three-decades-long deal was recently expanded when the NCAA agreed to hold more than 90 percent of its committee meetings in Indianapolis. The original agreement was for 50 percent of those meetings to be held here.

The pact—which has been many months in the crafting—is finally complete and awaiting one final review, NCAA officials said.

Greg Shaheen Shaheen

“The deal is done, and now in the hands of the attorneys,” said Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies, adding that an announcement on the terms of the deal is expected some time this month.

One thing is already clear. The financial payback for the city is enormous. The direct visitor spending for the 2006 men’s Final Four in Indianapolis alone was $39.3 million. Since Lucas Oil Stadium holds 24,000 more for basketball than the RCA Dome, which hosted previous Final Fours, direct visitor spending is projected to approach $50 million for the 2010 Final Four.

Between now and 2016, the events the NCAA will bring here will net the region $153 million in direct visitor spending, according to sports economists. By the time the deal concludes in 2039, estimates put that number above $650 million.

In terms of economic impact—which accounts for spending by local workers and businesses who benefit from the direct visitor spending—the number derived from NCAA events in this city will exceed $1 billion in the next 30 years.

“This is an extraordinary and unique deal that any other community in the country would give their eyeteeth to get,” said Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass, who was president of the Capital Improvement Board at the time the arrangement was conceived.

Born of post-9/11 fears

It all started with a simple meeting and the need to address some seemingly mundane issues—like insurance.

Swarbrick sat across from Shaheen. Glass was there, too, along with a few other high-ranking city and state officials and representatives from the ISC and ICVA.

“The discussion began as an annual check-up in the summer of 2003,” said Swarbrick, who was one of the architects of the deal that brought the NCAA headquarters to Indianapolis. “It was more like a meeting between a landlord and tenant.”

Final Four factboxThere was conversation about what the sides could do to benefit each other. Shaheen mentioned that, in the wake of 9/11, the NCAA had been getting pressure from its insurance provider to devise an emergency backup plan for one of its biggest sporting event properties—the Final Four.

The NCAA wondered how this could be facilitated and if Indianapolis could play a role. It would require a plan that allowed tournament organizers and volunteers to mobilize quickly if necessary.

“The most logical arrangement was to have that backup plan centered in our own hometown,” Shaheen said. “We’re familiar with the resources there, and we could mobilize our own staff if necessary.”

What ensued was a discussion led by the ISC about what it would take to have a structure of paid staffers and an army of volunteers at the ready to put on a Final Four with a few weeks'—or perhaps even days'—notice if necessary.

Arguably, no organization has a better volunteer network nationally than the ISC, which has been central to sporting events held here, such as the 1987 Pan Am Games, numerous Final Fours and more than a handful of national and world championships.

“The NCAA is so intertwined with this community and what we do here, the trust level is strong,” said ISC President Susan Williams. “It’s a show of trust that we’re grateful for.”

Glass said the deal that began to take shape wouldn’t have been possible without the ISC and other key stakeholders’ proven track record.

“You can write whatever you want in a memorandum of agreement, but getting it done is something altogether different,” Glass said. “It’s a leap of faith.”

Unexpected carrot dangled

Even when city officials were courting the NCAA, which led to the move here from Kansas in 1999, they never asked the association for special consideration in hosting Final Fours or any other event.

“We told them we’d compete fair and square, like everyone else,” Swarbrick said.

But then, NCAA officials in the summer of 2003 threw out the most unexpected carrot. If Indianapolis agreed to be the emergency site for the Final Four, the NCAA would bring the men’s and women’s Final Fours, a men’s and women’s preliminary round, and the NCAA’s annual convention to the city on a five-year rotation.

Essentially, the NCAA was offering to bring a major event to the region every single year.

Officials for CIB—and then-Mayor Bart Peterson—seized the opportunity along with local tourism and convention officials. The NCAA didn’t make any direct demands but made it clear they’d need a bigger convention center and an improved, enclosed facility seating near 70,000 to make the deal work.

What resulted was the first National Football League stadium built with the NCAA Final Four specifically in mind.

“We brought in the heads of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments during design and construction,” Glass said. “We had them, along with the Colts and the ICVA, make up their wish list. What resulted was a true multipurpose venue. One with basketball specifically in mind.”

“The NCAA was just coming off a game at Ford Field in Detroit, and they saw what hosting a game in a facility like that could mean,” Glass said.

“It was a unique evolution of a relationship, really, that grew into a deal that was best for all sides,” Swarbrick said.

That evolution turned into a deal that was finalized only earlier this month. The product of more than a year of negotiations, the agreement governs the relationship between the NCAA and the city and formalizes the concept of bringing a major event here almost every year.

Delays caused concern

Rumblings began late last year that there were hang-ups with the deal, which spells out obligations involving this year’s Final Four, because this year’s tournament was fast approaching and nothing was signed.

Shaheen explained that the deal took so long to get done because the NCAA had never entered into such an agreement, and because of the complexities governing the five-year rotation.

The contract calls for creating an enduring Local Organizing Committee through 2039—instead of one that is created for each event and then dissolved.

The deal stipulates that money generated from the event will fund the LOC’s event budget, so no local funding is needed. The contract also lays out usage plans for Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center, White River State Park and potentially Conseco Fieldhouse and other city property for the events.

It also lays out the blueprint for Indianapolis to be the emergency backup site if another host city is forced to back out. No small task, given Indianapolis’ burgeoning convention business.

ICVA spokesman Bill Benner explained that while hotel rooms aren’t held “for an event that may never happen,” a template is in place to obtain enough rooms in the region, and facilities will be made available to assure the Final Four could be held here on short notice.

“This is a much more complicated deal than just a lease deal for three basketball games,” Shaheen said. “If this was just about this year’s Final Four, we would have had the lease deal done a long time ago.”

The relationship has remained workmanlike and hospitable throughout, said those familiar with the negotiations.

“From the beginning, this has always been about a partnership,” Swarbrick said. “And I think that partnership has become much richer than anyone could have foreseen.”•

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