Overlooked? Teams say Dayton’s First Four a proving ground

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BOWLING GREEN, KY (WDTN) — It’s become an annual tradition for residents in Dayton. The First Four draws in thousands of eager visitors to the Gem City each year.

Those eager fans and teams are hoping to leave Dayton marching on to their upcoming game.

For many filling out tournament brackets, though, the NCAA’s First Four games are nearly forgotten.

2NEWS visited a school who has played in the First Four.

Todd Stewart, Athletic Director for Western Kentucky University, says the announcement that his team would be in the tournament in 2012 is one he’ll never forget.

“When Western Kentucky’s name came up, playing in Dayton, Ohio for the NCAA Tournament, the place erupted. It was a neat, neat day,” Stewart said.

The Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers had cut down the nets of the Sun Belt Conference tournament just days prior to the announcement.

“If you’re going to be a 16 seed I think it’s better off for your program to play in Dayton. Than to be a 16 seed and not play until Thursday or Friday because of the incredible exposure you get,” he said.

The First Four games are appreciated by teams, and fans in Dayton, but for many across the country — the games are all but forgotten.

Even NBC’s Nightly News Anchor, Lester Holt, referenced the tournament as starting after the First Four.

“Get ready for March Madness. The NCAA brackets are out for basketball. It all starts this Thursday,” Lester said on Monday’s broadcast.

Some will call the next four games, “play-in contests”.

“We didn’t, I don’t think anybody playing in that game should. You’re in the NCAA tournament,”

So I asked Stewart — why the lack of respect?

“It might be because it’s publicized in a manner that it’s the last four in. People know the non 16 seeds that are there truly are the last four teams in the tournament,” he added, “If memory serves me correct VCU was one of those last four in, and they made it to the Final Four.”

An improbable run — that started in Dayton.

Stewart has words of wisdom to anyone who overlooks these eight teams.

“I’d say they’re wrong,” he said, “Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Georgia any of those teams would gladly trade where they are right now to be one of those 68,”

Those teams will be watching as the NCAA Tournament tips off in Dayton.

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