Des Moines landed the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in 2016. Bryce Miller/The Register
Des Moines is going Dancing.
The city landed the preliminary round of The Big Dance – the NCAA Tournament – for 2016. The NCAA announced sites that will host the early rounds of the men's basketball mega-event for 2016, '17 and '18 late Monday morning on its website.
The preliminary rounds of the tournament follow the "First Four" games that annually have been played in Dayton, Ohio.
"It's huge. It's just huge," said Tom Hockensmith, a Polk County supervisor. "It's something we've been pursuing for some time."
The news marked an enormous success for the city, which had worked to increase its national sports profile by hosting NCAA events in wrestling, track and field, women's basketball and volleyball.
The men's basketball tournament, however, is the Holy Grail of college sports bids.
Tom Davis coached in the NCAA Tournament 11 times with Iowa and Boston College and helped set the table as coach at Drake, a season before the Bulldogs danced in 2008.
Davis said organizers like Greg Edwards, president of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Wells Fargo Arena general manager Chris Connolly deserve praise for the heavy lifting that led to the NCAA choosing the city.
"I can't imagine the feelings of all those people who made it happen, like Greg Edwards and Chris Connolly and all the people involved," Davis said. "It's pretty exciting. I'd be shocked if the players, coaches, fans and officials won't really, really enjoy coming to Des Moines.
"I can't imagine it being anything other than a great experience for everybody."
Des Moines has twice submitted bids for the event, but ramped up efforts in new and much bigger ways on the third lap.
Officials visited the NCAA's Indianapolis headquarters in April to brainstorm ways to raise the city's bid potential. Organizers also named Dan Houston of the Principal Financial Group an honorary chairperson. Houston gathered 34 letters of corporate support for the bid from every major employer in the metro area.
The bid also included 11 letters from other leaders, including Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
Members of the DMLOC tell what is took to get the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships 1st and 2nd Rounds to pick Des Moines for 2016. Andrea Melendez/The Register
"I often wondered if this day would happen," Edwards said. "There's so much competition out there across the country. We've tried so hard. They (NCAA) know that we get it, that we know how to do major sporting events – and I think it was finally our turn."
Iowa State, which signed on as bid host for Des Moines, is not allowed to play at its own site. Iowa, Northern Iowa and Drake, however, would be eligible to tip off in Wells Fargo Arena if they qualify for the tournament.
"We're delighted and excited because now, the door's open," Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said. "A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into this, for a lot of years. A lot of sweat equity was put into that arena, so it could happen.
"And it happened. That's pretty cool."
Iowa State's involvement underscores a larger commitment in the region, Greater Des Moines Partnership vice president Gene Meyer said.
Des Moines, Iowa State and others are trying to build momentum on a range of fronts as part of the Capital Corridor campaign, which is part of the larger Capital Crossroads project. Cities and groups within a 50-mile radius are working together more closely for shared benefit – like the NCAA Tournament.
"It hits bio-science, agribusiness and all other levels of engagements," Meyer said. "Landing this and having Iowa State willing to step up to the plate is a big win for everyone in the region."
Local organizers sweetened financial incentives for the most recent bid, but declined to outline specifics because of the competitive nature of landing the men's tournament.
Earning the highly coveted NCAA ticket marked a defining moment for the city, which had spirits bruised last December.
Des Moines learned it had failed to land a bid for the next cycle of the NCAA wrestling championships, despite selling out every ticket for the 2013 event in less than 15 minutes and hosting the most successful fan festival in tournament history.
"It's the Midwest and the Midwest loves its basketball," NCAA spokesman David Worlock said. "Certainly, having a track record of successfully staging other championships (like Des Moines) is a feather in your cap.
"We're excited to come to Des Moines."
Harrison Barnes, who plays for the NBA's Golden State Warriors, responded to the Des Moines Register via text: "The NCAA Tournament is the biggest platform in college basketball. I loved playing in it. This will be a great experience for the basketball fans in Iowa, as well as those who will be visiting, to enjoy our great state."
Barnes, an Ames native, played in the NCAA Tournament for North Carolina.
Wells Fargo Arena can seat more than 16,000 for basketball, which far exceeds the NCAA minimum capacity requirement of 10,000.
So, finally, Des Moines can exhale – and celebrate.
"We get to enjoy this day, then we start preparing," Hockensmith said. "Right now, we're going to take a deep breath, then we go to work."
Come back to DesMoinesRegister.com throughout the day for updates on this story – and find complete coverage in Tuesday's newspaper.