The NCAA's love affair with Oklahoma City cooled these past few years.
No men's basketball regionals. No women's basketball regionals. No national championships beyond the Women's College World Series.
We went from having a big-time college sports event every other week — at least it seemed that way — to wondering if we'd done something wrong. Why wasn't the NCAA bringing any events to town? Was our infatuation with the Thunder driving it away? Why didn't it love us anymore?
No need to worry about that now.
This weekend's women's basketball regional at The Peake is the curtain raiser on a banner time for college sports in Oklahoma City. By the end of 2014, four national champions will have been crowned here, not to mention four Big 12 Conference tournament champions.
“This will be the greatest amateur event year that we've had,” Oklahoma City All-Sports Association executive director Tim Brassfield said.
And it might only be the start of another NCAA-OKC lovefest.
But before we get to that, let's look at what we already know is coming to town. There's NCAA women's basketball, Big 12 baseball, NCAA softball, Big 12 women's basketball, NCAA wrestling, Big 12 baseball again, NCAA softball again and NCAA volleyball.
It's an impressive run.
Most impressive is the NCAA championships that are coming to town during 2014. Oklahoma City will have wrestling in March, softball in May and June and volleyball in December. Three national championships all in the same calendar year.
“No other city's ever had that,” Brassfield said.
Obviously, Oklahoma City starts with one championship already in place. The NCAA hasn't given OKC permanent possession of the Women's College World Series, but the softball is a virtual lock to be here for many years to come.
Despite that, it speaks volumes that the NCAA would award the city two more national championships next year.
Wrestling is something of a natural. The sport has deep roots and passionate fans here. That was evident in 2006 when Oklahoma City last hosted the wrestling national championships. Sellout crowds abounded.
But what about volleyball?
This is uncharted territory. Neither the city nor the state is a volleyball hotbed, and yet, the NCAA thought enough of Oklahoma City to award the national championship to the city.
That's a good sign, my friends. It bodes well for Oklahoma City getting even more NCAA events.
Brassfield said that next month, the NCAA will open the bidding on 85 championships. That list will include national championships and regional competitions, and Brassfield said the All-Sports Association intends to go after several of them, including wrestling national championships, rowing national championships and men's basketball regionals.
OKC, a regular for hosting men's basketball regionals, fell out of the rotation of late. It hosted early-round games in 2010, but it will go at least five years without hosting another regional. Sites have been awarded through 2015, and OKC isn't among the lucky cities.
It starts with ticket sales.
“In 2010, we had a little step back in our attendance for the first time ever, the first time that we weren't the first venue to sell out ahead of all the others,” Brassfield said. “We didn't ultimately sell out.”
Was it because of the Thunder's surge of success? Was it because the local college teams were in a lull? Was it because college basketball nationally was going through a downward trend?
Yes to all of the above.
But if you watched many of the games last week, you know that flagging attendance is an issue in several places. Oklahoma City should look pretty darn good by comparison.
The city has a great track record of managing events, too. It excels at the behind-the-scenes stuff that most of us don't see. How the teams are treated. How the schedule is kept. How the arena is set up. Those details are important to the NCAA, and the All-Sports Association folks are among the best at managing them.
Brassfield says that his group gets a big assist from the Big 12, especially when it comes to men's basketball regionals. The conference is often brought on board to be the host institution; Oklahoma State and Oklahoma don't like to be hosts because by NCAA rule, their teams cannot play in a regional they are hosting.
If you're looking for another reason why OKC has fallen out of the men's basketball regional rotation, this host institution issue is a big one.
The Big 12 couldn't be the host for a men's regional in Oklahoma City this year or next year. It was already on the hook for this year's regional and next year's Final Four at Jerry World.
“Our normal co-host was committed in other areas,” Brassfield said. “I think that was a deciding factor (for the NCAA).”
But when Oklahoma City bids for men's regionals — which are open beyond 2015 — it plans to have help from the Big 12.
“We will definitely bid it,” Brassfield said, “and I think we will be awarded a regional.”
Look at what's already on the calendar over the next year or so, and you could see Oklahoma City being in line for all sorts of NCAA events in the future.
The love affair is on again, and it might just be hotter than ever.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.