New Wings arena to host NCAA Tournament games in 2018

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
A rendering of the exterior of new Red Wings arena.

The new arena Mike Ilitch is building in downtown Detroit only broke ground a few weeks ago and it already has its first event booked.

And it's a big one.

The NCAA announced on Monday the arena would host first- and second-round games for the 2018 men's basketball tournament on March 16 and 18. The University of Detroit Mercy is the host school.

"We're thrilled, first of all, to be a part of the bid process, and we're thrilled to have this event come to Detroit," said UDM athletic director Robert Vowels, "and with the great partners we have at the mayor's office, Olympia Entertainment and the Detroit Sports Commission."

The city of Detroit last hosted the NCAA Tournament when Ford Field was the site of the 2009 Final Four, a year after the home of the Detroit Lions hosted the Midwest Regional.

The success of those events, especially 2009 when Michigan State reached the national title game against North Carolina, definitely played a role in the decision to return in 2018.

"The committee does try to move this thing around and expose it to different communities," said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president for men's basketball. "But first and foremost on this committee's mind is the experience of the student athletes, and a huge component is having a full arena and getting that excitement that comes with March Madness and the NCAA Tournament.

"A proven track record of having a sold-out or nearly sold-out venue is what makes March Madness special to student athletes."

UDM hosted both of those events and will get a chance to do so again this time around. Their familiarity with the process also was key in bring the tournament back.

"It was huge," Vowels said of the success of 2008 and 2009. "I think it's so when someone knows what you work like and sees your body of work. And we have people already assembled here in the city that can help us that have been through it before, and within our department also we've got people that have worked the event before, so I think that was a big plus."

While the Red Wings are scheduled to begin play at the new arena for the 2017-18 season, the NCAA Tournament committee has not shied away from selecting arenas that are under construction as Detroit is one of several announced on Monday.

What the committee has been more focused on is getting away from large domed stadiums for the preliminary and regional rounds, though that's not to say venues like Ford Field would not be considered in the future.

"This committee feels pretty strongly that when the opportunities present themselves that the (preliminary) rounds of the tournament should be played in arenas," Gavitt said. "It does not eliminate the possibility of using domes for regionals in the future. There are some great facilities like Ford Field, Carrier Dome in Syracuse, that have been long-time hosts and will continue to be. But there's not a dome in the mix for the preliminary rounds in this cycle and I think that's part of the decision that the committee made (in Detroit) with a brand new facility that is an arena that can offer that kind of experience to student-athletes.

"I think they were excited about the possibility of taking it to the new Detroit arena."

It hasn't been long since the NCAA Tournament played in Metro Detroit area. In 2012-13, the Palace of Auburn Hills hosted opening-round games with Michigan State and Michigan both playing there.

And Vowels sees no reason to believe Detroit won't continue to be considered in the future.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think the city with all the attributes that it has makes this event a special event."



March 15/17 -- CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh

March 15/17 -- Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita, Kansas

March 15/17 -- American Airlines Center, Dallas

March 15/17 -- Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho

March 16/18 -- New Red Wings Arena, Detroit

March 16/18 -- Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina

March 16/18 -- Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

March 16/18 -- Viejas Arena, San Diego


March 22/24 -- Philips Arena, Atlanta

March 22/24 -- Staples Center, Los Angeles

March 23/25 -- TD Garden, Boston

March 23/25 -- CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Nebraska