Much to the chagrin of the "Save Rosenblatt" folks, Omaha's city leaders are moving ahead with plans to build a new stadium downtown. And while I agreed with the "Rosenblatt Stadium is just fine" opinion in the past, the NCAA's position has changed my mind. Tom Shatel put it best in his column today. The #1 priority for Omaha is to save the College World Series.
What keeps the College World Series in Omaha? It's the fans, who come out in record numbers each season. But don't kid yourself who runs the show: it's the NCAA and ESPN, not Omaha.
The NCAA is based in Indianpolis, where Victory Field is a showplace, a gold standard for how to build a new ballpark. It has plenty of parking and nearby exhibition space for all the things that go on outside the stadium. It's visitor friendly too, with plenty of hotels and restaurants nearby.
ESPN is owned by Disney, who has a little bit invested in Orlando, where coincidentally, they are also looking to build a baseball stadium.
The NCAA recently notified Omaha that they are invoking a 150 day clause in their current contract where the NCAA and Omaha will engage in exclusive negotiations. After that, the NCAA is free to look elsewhere. What does the NCAA want? Well, the NCAA already has a bad enough reputation so they aren't going to make demand, but rather make "requests".
We already know about the NCAA's request for the "clean zone" to eliminate much of the "Mardi Gras" aspect of the CWS. Bye bye to the beer tents and flea markets. Now the NCAA also is mentioning hotels and restaurants nearby.
Now, it's starting to look like a no-brainer to move the College World Series to downtown, specifically next door to the Qwest Center. There are already 3 hotels within 6 blocks with 4 more already under construction. The Qwest Center provides all of the meeting and exhibition space you'd want for the NCAA's Corporate Partners. Nearby is the Riverfront plus the Old Market with more restaurants and hotels. How do you put this around Rosenblatt? Simple... you have to demolish even more of the neighborhood that the "Save Rosenblatt" folks cite as the reason to keep the CWS at Rosenblatt.
Yes, we probably could keep the CWS at Rosenblatt for a few more years as it currently stands. But the NCAA wants something more out of the CWS, and eventually they'll move it if Omaha doesn't meet their needs. They are asking nice now. They may not ask so nice in the future. Or worse, they'll stop asking and simply move it home. Don't believe me? Well, Indianapolis is now the permanent backup facility for the Final Four basketball tournament and is guaranteed a Men's AND Women's Final Four every five years. If Indianapolis can grab Final Fours two out of every five years, don't kid yourself that they won't grab the College World Series if Omaha balks.
Don't think our city fathers don' t know this? That's why the downtown stadium is the best plan for the College World Series. Rosenblatt has served us well, but the NCAA has served us notice that the CWS has finally outgrown the stadium on the hill. The question is no longer whether we want the CWS at Rosenblatt, but rather if we want the CWS in Omaha 10 years from now.