Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Gonzaga practices at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 in preparation for their NCAA March Madness game with Fairleigh Dickinson.

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been 40 years now since the University of Utah hosted the Final Four and the legendary national championship game between Michigan State (Magic Johnson) and Indiana State (Larry Bird).

Last week, the Utes once again rolled out the red carpet for the NCAA Tournament — hosting first- and second-round games downtown at Vivint Arena.

“It was a resounding success. Our staff got to show how terrific they are to our community and certainly the NCAA, who has already known that,” said Utah director of athletics Mark Harlan.

The six games in Salt Lake City were sold out months in advance. Harlan praised the continual partnership with the Utah Jazz and Vivint Arena president Jim Olson for allowing a “fantastic experience” for the tournament.

Things went so well, in fact, that Harlan noted that all University of Utah employees that worked the event were back at work Monday at 8 a.m.

" Any time we’re eligible we want to be there. It’s such a great thing for our community and great for our university and we’ll always want to be a part of that. "
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan on Utah hosting future NCAA tournament games

Ute employees have made a habit of running a smooth operation. The athletic department has hosted segments of the tournament 20 times over the years.

“It’s a great event. We have a lot of fun. Labor of love. No-sleep March is what we say,” tournament director Steve Pyne, who is also head of the university’s event and facility management, told the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. “The madness starts, obviously, a lot earlier. But that week is definitely March Madness for us.”

A blend of staff and volunteers has made for a strong, organized partnership. Hosting the tournament has become a tradition.

Pyne, who has gone from emptying garbage cans at the Final Four in 1979 to a 14-time tournament director, said it’s a city-wide event that has been supported well by the community and is something that is enjoyed.

“That's the reason why I think we get it about every three to four years,” Pyne said.

1 comment on this story

The awarding of games involves a four-year bidding process by the NCAA. Sites for the next cycle (2023-26) will be announced in 2020. Utah will bid for games every year. Pyne is hopeful to get them twice, most likely in 2023 and 2027.

However, he explained, the number of schools and conferences submitting bids is making things more and more difficult. Venues like the soon-to-be-completed Chase Center in San Francisco will add to the competition.

Even so, Utah intends to stay in the mix.

“Absolutely. Any time we’re eligible we want to be there,” Harlan said. “It’s such a great thing for our community and great for our university and we’ll always want to be a part of that.”