NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Opening Round game

The Opening Round game, (commonly known as the Play-In Game) of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship was the first official game of the tournament, played between two of the lowest-seeded teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the tournament. Beginning in 2001, the game was typically played on the Tuesday following the Sunday selection of the other teams for the March tournament and was played at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The winner of the game was awarded the #16 seeded position in one of four regions of the tournament and next played the #1 seeded team of that region on the following Friday. No winner of that game, nor any other #16 seed, has upset the #1 seeded team. However, three of the top seeds to beat the opening game winner advanced to the national championship game and all three won the national championship (2002 Maryland, 2005 North Carolina and 2010 Duke). North Carolina was the only #1 seeded team matched against the opening round winner more than once (2005 & 2008). On April 22, 2010, the NCAA announced that the tournament would expand to 68 teams, with four "Play-In Games" beginning with the 2011 tournament.[1] Consequently, the uniqueness of the single, opening round game lasted from 2001-2010.



The game was conceived after the Mountain West Conference, which had been formed in 1999 following the split of the Western Athletic Conference, was given an automatic bid for its conference champion, which made it the 31st conference to receive an automatic berth into the men's tournament. Unlike the women's tournament, which accommodated this change by eliminating an at-large bid to keep their field at 64 teams, the organizers of the men's tournament elected to keep their at-large entries at 34. In order to eliminate one of the teams to have a 64-team bracket, it became necessary for another game to be played between the two lowest-ranked teams among the automatic bid leagues.


Although analysts’ initial reactions to the concept were skeptical, the first game, played on March 13, 2001, was a success[citation needed], and few complaints have been heard since. One reason for these positive comments is the fact that the game has played on a Tuesday night, during which no other games are played (the first round of the tournament starts the following Thursday). Thus, the opening round game assumes a greater prominence than most first-round games, both to the viewing public and to scouts. Prior to the proposal of expansion, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim had advocated for an expansion of the tournament from 65 to 76 teams, which would include four opening round games for all of the 16th and possibly added opening round games for the 15th seeded teams too.[2] The expansion of play in games faced logistical challenges and lukewarm acceptance from deceased NCAA President Myles Brand and the corporate and media partners of the NCAA, but on April 22, the NCAA, as part of an announcement of a new 14-year, US $10.8 billion agreement between CBS Sports and TimeWarner's Turner Sports division that will include three more "play-in games", subject to the approval of the NCAA Executive Committee.

The opening round games have also been criticized as a handicap for teams among the historically black colleges and universities. In all but one of the games played from 2001–10, at least one of the teams has been an HBCU. However, the two conferences which are made up of HBCUs, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, are often two of the lowest-rated conferences in the RPI.[3]

Prior to the announcement of the new contract for television, ESPN carried the Opening Round game and has done so since 2002. The National Network (TNN, formerly known as The Nashville Network and now called Spike), at the time a corporate sibling of NCAA Tournament carrier CBS, aired the first game in 2001.

Florida A&M (2004 & 2007) and Winthrop (2001 & 2010) are the only teams to appear in the game more than once. The 2003 game is the only one to end in overtime.

Opening Round or Play-In Game

The reason the game is not officially referred to as a "play-in" is because the two teams are officially in the tournament before the game is played. As recently as 1991, the NCAA has conducted play-in games (usually between champions of what were considered to be the weakest conferences[citation needed]) prior to the announcement of the brackets; the losers were not considered to have been in the tournament. Note that the losers of the current opening round game are still credited with a tournament appearance for purposes of sharing in the NCAA basketball contract revenues, while the winners receives a share for being in the round of 64. Consequently, in 2001, Northwestern State technically became the first #16 seeded team to have a win in the men's NCAA tournament by virtue of the team's opening round victory.

Additional Games

Although the new format, beginning in 2011, expands to four opening round games, not all games necessarily feed into a #16 seed for the winner; nor, does each of the four regions necessarily have an opening round game. In 2011, for example, the East Region featured two opening round games and the West Region featured none. Also, the winners in two of the openers were awarded a #11 seed and #12 seed, respectively, in their designated region.

In 2011, the broadcast media began calling these games "The First Four" (as opposed to the "Final Four"); and, also used the term "first round games" interchangeably with "opening round games." Formerly, the term "first round game" specifically referred to the first games played by the final 64 teams, not the teams in the opening round. These games are now known as "second round games," resulting in some confusion for those more accustomed to the round being known as the "first round" and the "second round" being used for the regional quarterfinals (field of 32).

Single Game Results (2001 - 2010)

Denotes that team went on to win the national championship
Game went into overtime
Year Date Winner Loser #1 seed faced
2001 March 13 Northwestern State 71 Winthrop 67 Illinois
2002 March 12 Siena 81 Alcorn State 77 Maryland
2003 March 18 UNC Asheville 92 Texas Southern 84* Texas
2004 March 16 Florida A&M 72 Lehigh 57 Kentucky
2005 March 15 Oakland 79 Alabama A&M 69 North Carolina
2006 March 14 Monmouth 71 Hampton 49 Villanova
2007 March 13 Niagara 77 Florida A&M 69 Kansas
2008 March 18 Mount St. Mary's 69 Coppin State 60 North Carolina
2009 March 17 Morehead State 58 Alabama State 43 Louisville
2010 March 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 61 Winthrop 44 Duke

Appearances by conference

Conference Appearances Wins
SWAC 5 1
MEAC 4 1
Big South 3 1
MAAC 2 2
NEC 2 2
Ohio Valley 1 1
Patriot League 1 0
Southland 1 1
Summit League 1 1

Results Since 2011

The results of the opening round games since the tournament's expansion to four games is as follows:

2011: On March 15, UNC-Asheville (UNCA) defeated UA-Little Rock (UALR) 81-77 in overtime, advancing to the #16 seed in the Southeast Region to face #1 seeded Pittsburgh. Interestingly, at the time, UNCA had been involved in the only other opening round game to end in overtime in 2003. In the East Region, Clemson defeated UAB 70-52, advancing to the #12 seed to face #5 seeded West Virginia. On March 16, also in the East Region, UT-San Antonio defeated Alabama State 70-61, advancing to the #16 seed to play #1 seeded Ohio State. In the Southwest Region, VCU defeated USC 59-46, advancing to the #11 seed to face #6 seeded Georgetown. VCU ultimately advanced to the Final Four becoming the first opening round winner to compete beyond its second game.


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