Eight college basketball teams are headed our way, and Seattle is once again on the NCAA radar as a desirable place for the happy chaos of the first weekend of the men’s tournament, which a lot of people, me included, think might be the best one.

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We’re back. No more are we the forlorn soul who never gets asked to dance.

After more than a decade of seeing other Northwest cities hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Seattle is finally back in the mix.

Eight college basketball teams are headed our way, and Seattle is once again on the NCAA radar as a desirable place for the happy chaos of the first weekend of the men’s tournament, which a lot of people, me included, think might be the best one.

This time, let’s make it right.

NCAA Men's Tournament

“We don’t look back,” said Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission. “This is going to be a home run.”

The last time the NCAA tournament came here, in 2004, we apparently struck out on a pitch in the dirt with the bases loaded. And so, for 11 years, the city that once hosted Adolph Rupp and Phog Allen and Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon and set a standard for Final Four hospitality suddenly went begging.

Since ’04, Spokane has nabbed NCAA first-weekend games three times. Portland got it twice, and No. 3 parallels Seattle this week. Meanwhile, Seattle whiffed twice on bids and we pined, which gave us something to do while driving to the party in those cities..

But it’s back, and everybody involved is focused on this week, not on 2004.

“I know we decided to come back there,” says David Worlock, NCAA basketball committee spokesman. “Anything that might have happened back in 2004 obviously was not factored in this time around. There’s no reason to think this will be anything but a positive experience.”

A look at the NCAA’s participating team manual tells you this thing doesn’t just happen. Every conceivable aspect of a visiting program’s stay is covered – lodging, transportation, directions, alternate gyms for practice – and linked to the host school’s (Washington) personnel assigned to those functions.

Under bands, spirit squads and mascots is this alert, bold-faced: “There shall be no back flips performed during free throws.”

The house, and the operation of it, is of paramount NCAA concern. All hands agree on KeyArena’s split personality: Twenty-one years since a remodel, it’s still an excellent place to watch a basketball game, but the auxiliary space is, well, snug.

“The challenge is the backstage areas,” says Karen Baebler, UW assistant athletic director who is tournament manager. “When you compare that to what you see in most modern arenas, the space just isn’t there.”

So they got creative. A storage area, for instance, is now media workspace.

“I guess you would say the auxiliary requirements outside of just playing a basketball game have grown by leaps and bounds, even in 11 years,” says Jeff Reed, KeyArena event manager. “So yes, it is very tight. We’re going to make it work.”

So why the drought? When I wrote five years ago about the city eating the figurative dust of Portland and Spokane, sources cited several problems related to issues of KeyArena and its management in ’04. One said they caused the NCAA to conclude, “We’re not dealing with those people again.”

Many of the principals have changed in 11 years, at both the NCAA and KeyArena. Two of the former NCAA giants who oversaw the tournament, Tom Jernstedt and Bill Hancock, have moved on to the college football playoff. The job of event manager at the Key has turned over.

Advertising signage was one problem. Standing local advertisers in the building (the Sonics were in town then) or the facility’s title sponsor’s signs can’t conflict with NCAA sponsorships.

“You can’t have KeyArena logos all over the place,” said Worlock. “We do allow them a couple.”

Baebler says NCAA staffers did a walk-through in January at which signage specifics were discussed with KeyArena officials.

In ’04, there were other problems, including a ticketing snafu in which seats for one session were allocated to the wrong school, and some difficulty soundproofing the media-interview room.

Morton said in 2010, “My understanding is, it was a challenge getting the things (done) that needed to be done.”

Today, it’s full speed ahead. The only discouraging word is that Seattle’s bid for first-weekend games in 2016-18 came up empty last year. But that’s not unusual with one event in hand, especially given the hiatus since the last one.

The UW has hosted several major NCAA events in recent years, including women’s basketball regionals and Final Four volleyball, but there are inevitable fires to be put out and decisions made on the fly. On the weekend, Baebler was bracing for the blur of eight teams on the way, a media horde and the spotlight of one of America’s favorite events.

Says Baebler, “They call it madness for a reason.”