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Pittsburgh celebrates victory in landing 22 NCAA postseason events

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 6:38 p.m.

Sports of all sorts, sizes and genders are coming to the Pittsburgh region.

The events will stretch from 2018-22 and include seven NCAA sports contested at six wide-ranging venues, starting next year with the highly visible first two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at PPG Paints Arena.

But the unique quality of VisitPittsburgh's latest and most ambitious initiative — bringing to western Pennsylvania 22 NCAA preliminary and championship events in Divisions I, II and III — is that even the collegiate athlete who competes without a scholarship can step into the spotlight.

VisitPittsburgh, a public and privately funded group that brings conventions and sporting events to this region, spent the past four years preparing and submitting 70 bids to the NCAA in an attempt to host the events. In the end, Pittsburgh received more than any other city over the next five years.

“Who would have thought Pittsburgh would have been punching above its weight class and got 22 events?” said VisitPittsburgh President and CEO Craig Davis at a news conference Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.

The events include four that generate revenue and nationwide buzz — the Frozen Four and men's basketball tournaments, D-I wrestling and women's volleyball championships — and those that often slip under the public's radar.

The latter group includes Division II field hockey to be played between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, 2018, at Arthur J. Rooney Field on the campus of Duquesne (sponsored by Slippery Rock). There also will be D-II soccer at Highmark Stadium and D-II and D-III cross country at Schenley Park and Cooper's Lake Campground in Butler County.

“It was important to the NCAA that the D-II and D-III athletes get the same attention and same fantastic experience as the other athletes do,” said Jennifer Hawkins, executive director for sports development for VisitPittsburgh.

It's also an opportunity to expose local residents to various sports that often are ignored.

“We wanted to make sure a young boy from Beltzhoover is able to come down for the first time and learn about volleyball,” city councilman Dan Gilman said.

Why Pittsburgh, and why such largesse?

“The NCAA saw they had an opportunity to streamline the events through one group,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said representatives from VisitPittsburgh and Robert Morris have attended every Frozen Four ice hockey championship since 2005.

“If the NCAA didn't know we wanted to host this event, they weren't paying attention,” said Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman, whose school also hosted the 2013 Frozen Four.

Pitt will serve as host for the 2019 wrestling championships at PPG Paints Arena, the first time that event will be contested in Pittsburgh in 62 years.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke took the opportunity to introduce new wrestling coach Keith Gavin, whose first day on the job was Wednesday.

“Start strong, finish strong,” Lyke said of Gavin. “2019 will be here quick, and we have great expectations of our wrestling program.”

VisitPittsburgh, which is supported through an Allegheny County lodging tax in addition to private funding, partnered with Pitt, Robert Morris, Duquesne, Carnegie Mellon, Clarion, Slippery Rock and St. Vincent to submit the bids. In addition, Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh stood behind the effort.

“It's definitely an extensive use of resources,” Hawkins said. “But it goes most directly to our mission to get out and talk about Pittsburgh.”

And, as VisitPittsburgh chief marketing officer Tom Loftus correctly noted, “All of those events bring revenue.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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