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How the NCAA Selects Its March Madness Host Cities

It's not just drawing names out of a hat.

By Cary Estes on March 8, 2023

How are host cities selected for March Madness?

March Madness sweeps its way across the United States every spring as the annual NCAA basketball tournament captivates the nation. But unlike most championship sporting events, which are confined to a small number of locations, the NCAA basketball tournament takes place in more than a dozen cities, with the sites changing yearly. As a result, thousands of fans crisscross the country to watch their favorite team, and millions more follow the action on television and through the Internet, making the tournament one of the most sought-after events for potential host cities.

“It’s a chance to brand your city and offer the people in your city a great event that really is different than anything else,” says Joel Lamp, former director of sports and entertainment for the City of Jacksonville, which hosted March Madness games in 2006 and 2010. “And it has a huge economic impact as well. You’re getting people from all over the country to come to your town. For a lot of these people, it’s their first chance to experience your city.”

The first four games of the 68-team, single-elimination tournament are held in Dayton, Ohio, cutting the field to 64 teams. Second- and third-round games are then held in eight cities (reducing the number of teams to 16), followed a week later by the regional semifinals and finals in four locations. Finally, the tournament culminates at a single site with the Final Four, which determines the champion.

Cities bid several years in advance for the opportunity to host one of the tournament rounds. The NCAA has already finalized and determined which cities will play host to the Final Four through 2030. 

It’s basically Match.com, but for cities.

Prospective hosts must submit a proposed budget, fill out a facility questionnaire that includes a facility diagram and photos, detail a safety and security plan and provide a certificate of liability insurance. According to NCAA guidelines, the primary criteria in evaluating the sites are the quality and availability of the facility and other necessary accommodations; revenue potential; attendance history and potential; geographical location; and operating costs. In addition, more significant consideration may be given to sites with the highest frequency of daily airline arrivals and departures.

The key is to make sure a facility meets all of the NCAA specifications, from a seating capacity standpoint (the minimum is 10,000 seats) to a variety of amenities like suites and boxes to ensure that the media and press conferences have accommodations and there is still plenty of room for fans. 

From there, cities must also reach out to area hotels. First, there must be accommodations for tournament headquarters and then for the second- and third-round games, eight team hotels. Additionally, area hotels must be able to create room blocks for each team as well as their fans, band and cheerleaders. 

It might seem like a lot of work to secure a fleeting moment of madness, but Lamp says it is well worth the effort. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of one of the greatest sporting events in the world,” he says. “It’s just a special event that any city would want to have.”

This Year’s Hosts

First Four: March 14 & 15
  • Dayton, OH
First & Second Rounds: March 16-19
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Des Moines, IA
  • Orlando, FL
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Albany, NY
  • Columbus, OH
  • Denver, CO
  • Greensboro, NC
Sweet 16: March 23-24
  • Las Vegas, NV (West Regional)
  • New York, NY (East Regional)
  • Kansas City, MO (Midwest Regional)
  • Louisville, KY (South Regional)
Elite Eight: March 25-26
  • Las Vegas, NV (West Regional)
  • New York, NY (East Regional)
  • Kansas City, MO (Midwest Regional)
  • Louisville, KY (South Regional)
Final Four: April 1
  • Houston, TX
NCAA Championship Game: April 3 
  • Houston, TX
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