If Omaha builds it, the best men’s and women’s college tennis players just may come.
Included in Monday’s announcement about the planned Omaha Multi-Sport Complex and its Olympic-sized, 50-meter competitive swimming pool were 18 tennis courts and seating for 6,500 spectators.
Mike Cassling, board chairman of the Omaha Multi-Sport Complex organization, said Tuesday that 18 to 24 more courts in Omaha, including at least six to 12 indoor courts, could lead to Omaha becoming the annual home for the NCAA men’s and women’s indoor team championships and outdoor individual and team championships.
“We’ve had discussions with the NCAA around that,” Cassling said about Omaha possibly becoming the permanent site for the indoor championships in February and the outdoor championships in May. “Everybody knows that the NCAA does love Omaha.
“Omaha doesn’t have any pro sports. And turnout has always been good for any amateur events here.”
The right site and the right accommodations, such as nearby hotels and restaurants, could turn Omaha into yet another prime location for an NCAA sport, he said, just like Omaha’s longtime and revered relationship with the College World Series.
Currently, the NCAA tennis championships have been revolving between different sites, such as last week’s indoor matches in Seattle and the past couple of outdoor finals at Stanford University and at the University of Georgia.
Stanford and Georgia maintain top-flight outdoor facilities, but the college tennis powerhouses do not have quality indoor backup courts in case of rain. In 2010, rain forced numerous match postponements in Athens, Ga.
Just like the wildly popular NCAA basketball tournament, the top 64 men’s and women’s tennis teams earn spots in their respective tourneys at regional locations. The final 16 teams and the top singles players and doubles teams advance to the main location, such as Omaha, for two weeks of matches.
By May 21, the Omaha Multi-Sport Complex organization will announce where the sports complex will be built. Organizers are putting out a formal request for proposals from landowners interested in the facility.
“We’re open to everything,” Cassling said, when it comes to a location.
He said he hopes the NCAA climbs aboard the proposal for Omaha as a permanent tennis site once the complex’s location is officially announced and formal drawings of the facility are displayed for NCAA officials.
“We’re going to do these courts no matter what,” he said about an NCAA decision. “This is really meant for the community.”
If the NCAA’s best tennis players and teams don’t come to Omaha, Cassling said, top junior and adult players might. Besides, he said, Omaha is in need of additional tennis courts.
The 27-court Koch Family Tennis Center near 120th Street and West Maple Road hosts a number of Omaha Tennis Association, USTA Missouri Valley and national junior and adult tournaments each summer.
The new venue would go on a site of at least 10 acres, and the site would also host national, regional and local swimming competitions. The landowner would either donate property or set up a long-term lease, according to the group’s plans.
Already, the nonprofit group that would run the facility has raised close to $1 million to buy the Olympic Swim Trials pool that was used at the CenturyLink Center last summer.
One possible site, near 67th Street and West Center Road, is owned by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. While it’s possible that the complex could land on property owned by that institution or another, it would be operated by the independent nonprofit.
UNO and Creighton University men’s and women’s tennis teams, which use Koch and the Hanscom indoor tennis center at South 32nd and Ed Creighton Avenues, would be welcome to play and train at the new facility, Cassling said.
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