The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 13, 2014

COLUMN: Chirping crickets should be Enid’s cue

ENID, Okla. — The sound of chirping crickets in Lubbock, Texas, should give Enid some motivation to go after another national sports event.

Lost locally in the good news received last week from the National Junior College Athletic Association announcement that Enid was again awarded the NJCAA Division II baseball World Series — this time through 2019 — was the decision to award the NJCAA  Division I women’s national basketball tournament to Lubbock, Texas, starting in 2016.

While Enid being awarded the World Series will give Enid an 11-year consecutive run, it wasn’t the longest standing relationship between a community and the NJCAA. The city of Salina, Kan., has been a mainstay destination for the NJCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament, but that will be changing.

The 2015 event in Salina, Kan., will be the 18th straight, and likely last, year it will host the event with it now moving over to Lubbock, Texas.

The news was greeted with disappointment in Salina, where it is estimated the event brings in about $600,000 per year in revenue from teams and fans attending the games at the Bicentennial Center.

But the fact is, attendance and interest had significantly waned, even games involving area teams struggled to attract spectators. Northern Oklahoma College Enid’s game against Hutchinson in this year’s national tournament drew a sparse crowd of no more than 1,500 people.

So, it was not surprising the NJCAA sought greener pastures, but going to Lubbock, Texas, seems a bit of an odd choice.

And from the response from the media, one wonders if the NJCAA isn’t going to regret awarding the women’s tournament to the hometown of Texas Tech through 2018.

While the media in Salina was all over it, there was nary a word about it in Lubbock. Those cricket chirps have to be a concern for the NJCAA and for a town solely interested in Division I athletics, it seems it will be hard for the NJCAA to gain hold there.

That is where Enid needs to step in.

With the new Enid Event Center humming along and the fact not only has it shown it can sell-out entertainment acts such as Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire, it also showed with the recent near sell-out of the Globetrotters event, that it can be a successful hoops venue.

Enid Event Center general manager Keller Taylor indicated the NJCAA is on his radar.

“We are actively staying in touch with NJCAA about all possibilities,” Keller said in an email. And though they did not put in a bid for the recently awarded tournament, Taylor said he anticipates other future tournaments that are a fit for Enid and the Event Center would draw consideration for a bid.

A good test event would be to try to scoop the NJCAA Region II basketball tournament away from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. It consists of schools in NOC Enid’s conference, making the teams recognizable to area fans. Some success there could easily open the door for the national tournament.

The NJCAA would be hard-pressed to find a more optimally sized arena than the 3,400-seat Event Center and its facilities are likely light years ahead of most places the schools currently visit.

Taking on the women’s national tournament would actually require less logistics than the World Series, which brings in an estimated $4 million annually to the Enid economy and with the Hilton Garden Inn slated to open in 2015, the timing would appear opportune to begin to position Enid for a bid.

The city of Enid of course already has a good track record with the NJCAA with the wildly successful World Series. And media coverage has never been an issue.

With the way Enid has embraced the World Series, it’s safe to say any crickets would likely be drowned out by the cheering fans.

Time to start making a move.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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