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FIU (SunBelt) to host 2009 March Madness

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FIU (SunBelt) to host 2009 March Madness


March Madness heads back to South Florida

Miami will serve as a host city for the NCAA Tournament's first and second rounds in 2009. The games will be played in AmericanAirlines Arena.

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The NCAA men's basketball tournament will return to South Florida in 2009 after a 15-year absence.

The NCAA on Thursday awarded AmericanAirlines Arena first- and second-round games in 2009 that will be hosted by Florida International University.

Eight teams will play six games on March 19 and 21 or March 20 and 22. Two teams will advance from the bracket to the Sweet 16.

The last NCAA men's tournament games played here were the 1994 East Regional semifinals and final at Miami Arena.

FIU, the University of Miami, AmericanAirlines Arena, the Miami-Dade Sports Commission and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau collaborated on the bid. The NCAA reported it received applications from a record 56 cities for 22 available sites.

Mike Sophia, executive director of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission, said the initial projection of the direct economic impact for having first-weekend March Madness games is about $15 million. And that estimate, he said, is conservative.

''Everybody wins, especially our community,'' said FIU athletic director Rick Mello, who led the bid.

FIU and AmericanAirlines were unsuccessful in their 2004 application to land tournament games in 2007 and 2008. Neither UM nor the Sports Commission was part of that coalition two years ago.

Members of the selection committee visited AmericanAirlines Arena in 2004 but did not this year.

Although key players in securing tournament games for 2009 expressed satisfaction, all shared a desire to show the NCAA that Miami is a worthy host city for the future. The long-term goal is to host an NCAA Regional.

''This is the first step,'' said Mike Walker, executive vice president of Miami Heat group enterprises.

Added Sophia: ``Our goal now is to help the NCAA stage a successful event and keep Miami in the rotation so it's not [15] years before we have another opportunity to host the event.''

Jeanne Boyd, director of the NCAA men's basketball championship, said Miami has been on the selection committee's radar the past few years. Because of the volume of bids from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, Miami fell short in its initial attempt. But Boyd said the committee was impressed in 2004 and encouraged the group to apply again.

The allure of South Florida, including the hotel options, accessibility to airports and first-rate venue in AmericanAirlines Arena, made Miami an appealing choice, Boyd said.

''We think it's going to be a really good site for our tournament,'' she said.

``We're looking forward to building our relationship in Miami.''

The NCAA selected Detroit as the host of the 2009 Final Four. Other cities hosting games on the first weekend include Philadelphia; Dayton, Ohio; Greensboro, N.C.; Minneapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Spokane, Wash.; and Portland, Ore.
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