With the Conference USA men's and women's basketball championships coming to the BOK Center in March, the conventional wisdom was that the two events would provide a good glimpse of the city's ability to host a major basketball tournament, possibly putting it in line for a Big 12 tournament or NCAA sub-regional down the line.
That conventional wisdom went out the window Sept. 21 when the Tulsa Sports Commission and the University of Tulsa announced that the BOK Center was named a host site for the 2011 NCAA First-Second Round Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
The commission and TU submitted a bid in May and welcomed tournament officials during a site visit last month.
For BOK Center general manager John Bolton, the announcement that the arena will play host to the tournament a year from March was huge news.
"It's a great one-year birthday gift," he said. "To me, this is as big as getting the Eagles or Paul McCartney."
Bolton said the decision to submit a bid for the 2011 tournament was a strong indication of the confidence local officials have in the arena, which opened in September 2008.
"We're always trying to compete for any bid that's put out there," he said. "We're definitely not going to let it sit there and not do anything about it."
Bolton said the local team did an amazing job of preparing for NCAA officials during their visit in August, installing the arena's basketball floor and setting up a post-game interview room just as it would for an actual event.
"I think they were truly impressed with the facility and the fact we had all their specifications and requirements down," he said. "We were ready, and it showed. After they left town, we asked them if there was anything we could have done better, and they said, 'No, everything was perfect.' "
Bolton said he and his staff had a very good feeling about their chances of landing the tournament, "but you never know what can happen."
Approximately 70 cities submitted bids for the event. Tulsa joins such other host cities as Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Tampa, Tucson and Washington, D.C.
Bolton believes the tournament -- certain to be the biggest sporting event held at the arena in its short history -- is just the kind of attraction for which the BOK Center was built.
"This shows this facility is very capable of handling a major, major sports tournament," he said.
Tulsa last played host to the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1985 at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University. That year, the Wayman Tisdale-led University of Oklahoma squad defeated North Carolina A&T 96-83 and Illinois State 75-69 in the first two rounds at the Mabee Center before eventually falling to Memphis State in the tournament's round of eight.
When asked how the announcement might affect Tulsa's chances of landing a Big 12 Conference tournament in the future, Bolton replied, "I think it definitely helps."
Dates for the 2011 NCAA tournament have not been announced, although the first- and second-round games will be played in mid-March. Bolton said information about ticket sales for the tournament is expected to be released later in the week.
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