By George Block
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, April 4. ONE of the side-effects of having Olympic Trials semi-permanently headquartered in Omaha is a growing familiarity with the College World Series. The College World Series (CWS) has been held in Omaha since 1950. After 60 years of playing in Rosenblatt Stadium, and the potential loss of the tournament to Omaha, the NCAA and Omaha reached a 25-year deal to keep the tournament in Omaha that included the construction of a new, event-specific stadium, TD Ameritrade Omaha, specifically designed for the CWS.
What if swimming did the same thing? What if our key, third tactic in saving Div. I college swimming was to get the NCAA and USA Swimming to work together to develop a destination facility and permanent home for collegiate swimming championships? What could that look like?
A 25-year deal makes it worthwhile for a community to invest bond funds to build a facility. The size of the tournament(s) must put enough “heads in beds” to pay off those bonds. The quality of the facility and the amenities of the host city make it a destination for the event.
As much as I love the Texas Swimming Center, its seating is too limited to really grow the audience for the NCAAs, and it is both too large and too far away for diving spectators. An event-specific facility would need to be designed with an Olympic Trials-like crowd and experience in mind.
I would think we would want 5-8,000 seats in a basketball-type configuration. Decks would have to be large enough to seat a larger field than we have today, but small enough to keep sight-lines intimate for spectators and fans. Great media space and access would be required, as would premium seating and suite space.
In order to get communities interested in bidding for this facility, both USA Swimming and the NCAA would have to get involved. USA Swimming would have to make it a permanent site for SC Junior and Senior Nationals. The NCAA would have to commit to Div, II, III, and both Div. I meets. With a facility of that quality, hosting those kinds of events, many other championships would find their way to the facility. State high school championships and YMCA Nationals could both be interested tenants, as well.
Communities typically hold bond elections on 3-5 year cycles, so the bid window would have to be long enough to allow interested cities time for their bond windows to open. This is a long-term vision. If we started today, it would take the NCAA 2-years to make a decision, 3-5 more years for communities to submit proposals, and another 2 years for design and construction. There is 10 years worth of lead time before a 25-year deal could start, so we need to get started.
Creating a 25-year commitment to both a community and a sport is the surest way to ensure the survival of that sport, but before the NCAA and potential bid cities are willing to take a risk on swimming, we have to get healthy. We have to get fiscally healthy by endowing our programs and we have to get marketing health by getting out of March Madness. Once we do that, we should take our sport to the next level with an event-specific facility in a destination city.