"Anyone who knows me knows I'm not good at finishing second, and I certainly don't like finishing fifth," he said.
A total of 16 colleges, universities and community organizations were finalists for the four debates. The ones selected and the dates of the debates are: the University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss., Sept. 26; Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 7; and Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., Oct. 15. Washington University in St. Louis was selected to host the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 2
Centre and Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., were picked as backup sites in case one or more of the four selected hosts withdraw.
Roush said he and college board members decided to accept the CPD's offer to serve as an alternate. He said the fact that the commission "turned to us as an insurance policy" in case one of the four sites has to back out is recognition of the college's extraordinary perfromance in hosting the 2000 CPD vice-presidential debate and its strong application this year.
"We stand prepared once again to serve the American people in this most important civic selection process," he said.
Asked what he thought the odds are of Centre being called off the bench to serve as a debate host, Roush said he isn't a betting man but went ahead and estimated the college's chances at "one in five."
But he indicated Centre's chances may be enhanced by the fact that all three universities chosen to host the presidential debates have never before served as CPD debate sites. In addition to Centre, Wake Forest and Washington University have served as debate hosts.
Still possible for Centre
While he commended the commission for giving an opportunity to three newcomers to serve as presidential debate sites - a chance he said was afforded Centre in 2000 - he said their inexperience may work against Mississippi, Belmont and Hofstra and in favor of Centre and Wake Forest.
"Serving as a debate site is a very complicated matter, especially in terms of logistics and technical issues," he said. "There are a lot of holes in the ice out there, and there's a chance that one of the selected hosts may fall through."
Roush said Centre officials felt confident about the college's chances of landing a debate as recently as just a few days ago.
"A week ago today, we felt we were in pretty good shape," he said.
However, he began to hear rumblings from the CPD indicating that many of its board members wanted to go with new debate hosts. "And that's when the wheels fell off (for Centre)," he said.
Roush said that if the college doesn't serve as a debate site, the money raised to help cover the costs of the debate - $1.35 million that goes directly to the CPD plus about the same amount to pay for other expenses - will be returned to donors.
While the president thanked the college's board, donors, faculty and staff and the community for their support throughout the process, which dates back to March, he offered special thanks - and condolences - to the students.
"I am particularly disappointed for our students," he said, adding that his office had emailed the CPD announcement to all students, faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon.
Several students interviewed after the press conference said the news did upset them.
"I am mainly disappointed because I looked forward to a debate as being something really special that I could add to my Centre experience," said Lauren Fredericksen, a junior from Lawrenceville, Ga.
Sarah Couch, a junior from Louisville, said hosting a debate that would draw a national television audience would have "created a buzz" about Centre around the country and would give the school "even more name recognition and prestige than it already has."
Danielle Dodson, a junior from Lexington, will be voting for the first time this fall. "Having a national debate here at Centre really would have been an educational, as well as exciting, experience for a first-time voter," she said.