Columbia greeted news that Greenville has been selected to play host to the relocated 2017 NCAA men’s basketball regional tournament with satisfaction and optimism.
The NCAA awarded first- and second-round games to Bon Secours Wellness Arena after the organization moved all 2016-17 postseason tournaments out of North Carolina in response to that state’s House Bill 2 law, deemed discriminatory by LGBT groups.
“We’re very happy for them,” said Scott Powers, executive director of the Columbia Regional Sports Council. “That’s fantastic for the state of South Carolina that they got 2017.”
Columbia considered submitting a bid for the men’s 2017 games, but the timing was too tight with area hotels that were already booked for March 17 and 19, 2017, Powers said. The city did submit bids by the Aug. 12 deadline to play host to men’s basketball, as well as Division II men’s and women’s golf and tennis, tournaments in 2019-22.
The city will learn on Oct. 26 if it is a men’s basketball finalist, and on Dec. 7 if its other bids have made the cut, Powers said.
“I feel good that Columbia will be a finalist,” said Powers, who said follow-up questions from the NCAA have mainly requested clarifications.
The NCAA will award a city a tournament in each of the four years. Greenville has also submitted a bid for a men’s basketball tournament in that span, Powers said.
“I don’t think that Columbia and Greenville consider that we’re competing against each other, because it’s four years,” he said. In fact, Powers said, Greenville’s selection as an NCAA site in 2017 could bode well for Columbia’s future chances.
“(The NCAA) staff has been nothing but supportive of everybody across our state,” Powers said. “Columbia and Greenville are both part of the statewide South Carolina Sports Alliance. We work together very well. We’ve gone up and visited the NCAA on a couple of occasions together as a state. They’ve done nothing but welcome us with open arms.”
South Carolina emerged as a player for NCAA bids after the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015. The key now, said University of South Carolina sports and entertainment professor Tom Regan, is remaining in the game.
“Make an impression in order for (the NCAA) to want to come back over and over,” said Regan, pointing to USC’s sustained success in playing host to baseball regionals and Super Regionals as an example. “It’s not only that opportunity, but you better leave that impression.”
Officials are confident Columbia can do that.
Bill Ellen, president and CEO of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, said the NCAA requires eight full-service hotels with sufficient availability during a specified tournament time period – a requirement that downtown Columbia and surrounding areas meet, he said.
“We do have the hotel and the structure in place to pull it off,” Ellen said. “We just need time to work on it, and trying to work on one for this coming March just didn’t work out for a number of reasons. … It was such a short window of opportunity.”
Ellen said Powers’ organization has communicated well with area hotels, who are keeping the March tournament dates in 2019-22 penciled in on their books.
“For me, the important thing is for people to be able to understand — even though it’s confusing — why we didn’t bid on 2017, especially now that Greenville got it and everybody’s saying Columbia failed,” Powers said. “Our hands were tied. The NCAA is very specific about what they need. We couldn’t offer those needs, so I thought it was a waste of time. The bid would not have been accepted without the hotels that we needed. … However, when you’re talking (20)19-22, they haven’t booked business that far out yet.”
Katie Montgomery, director of communications for the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the 11,500 hotel rooms throughout the Midlands stand ready to welcome sports fans.
“We want these big events to come to our city,” Montgomery said. “We’ll definitely find a way to get these people in. We want to welcome them to our city, for sure.”
A March 2016 Forbes magazine article found Providence, R.I., site of first- and second-round games in 2016, expected an economic impact of $3.5 million, while 2016 East Regional site Philadelphia expected a boost of nearly $18 million.
“It’s a big deal,” Regan said. “It’s just like brand-new money. It’s something (Columbia) has never had. … It’s just like somebody building a brand-new business right in your back yard.”