St. Louis woos NCAA for permanant wrestling home
Associated Press
Issue date: 3/26/08 Section: Sports
ST. LOUIS - March Madness in St. Louis has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years - in wrestling, not basketball.

Next year, the city will host its second-straight NCAA wrestling championship and fifth this decade. Now, the city wants to make the event its own.

Wrestling goes head-to-head with the opening weekend of the men's basketball tournament, a no-doubt-about-it loser in the national picture, yet a clear success in its own right.

Next summer, bids for the 2012-15 events will be accepted. St. Louis wants them all; it wants to become the college wrestling mecca.

"Whatever term they're offering, we'll take them all," said Frank Viverito, the president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. "We'll shoot to set an attendance mark next year and ask the committee to make this an annual site."

Coaches wouldn't mind that at all.

"Why not just go five years in a row, and then if it doesn't work out, then you can get out of it," said Tom Brands of national champion Iowa. "I think it's a great facility, there's a lot of familiarity here, and I haven't heard one person say it's not good."

Within the tiny universe of a niche sport dominated by the Big Ten, what used to be the Big Eight, and assorted invited guests, nearly all sporting cauliflower ears proudly as a badge of honor, there's a definite buzz in the city this time of the year. Last weekend would have been a slow time in the hotel business, given the Easter weekend, were it not for the sport's rabid following.

Approximately 10,000 hotel rooms were booked during the tournament, an estimated 15,000 visitors flooded the downtown streets, and, organizers say, injected an economic impact of $10 million. Iowa's return to prominence with its first championship since 2000 couldn't compete on the national stage, easily trumped by basketball and its inordinate amount of attention to upsets and near upsets and the marquee names cruising through the opening weekend.

Inside the Scottrade Center, the attention was glued to the mats.

There's precedent for a permanent site. The College World Series is entrenched in Omaha, Neb., the Division I-AA football championship is in Chattanooga, Tenn., the softball title is decided in Oklahoma City.

The wrestling championship was in Oklahoma City in 2006 and Detroit last year, and it will travel to Omaha and Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011. After that, the meet is up for grabs.

Viverito said St. Louis' experience and success running the event make it the perfect choice, not to mention an ideal location in the middle of wrestling territory without any school claiming an advantage. The top three attendance figures in event history are all in St. Louis.

"It's the absolute center of wresting interest and yet a neutral site," Viverito said. "And downtown is a perfect fit. It's all walkable, compact, and the people are comfortable here.

"It's great business but it's gone beyond business. We love the event."