Columbia will continue to enjoy basketball fever.
The NCAA tabbed the capital city as one of its NCAA men’s regional hosts on Tuesday, awarding Columbia and Colonial Life Arena the NCAA tournament first and second rounds on March 22 and 24, 2019. The regional, coming on the heels of the two most successful basketball seasons in South Carolina history and an NCAA men’s regional in Greenville, could bring up to $10.5 million to the city, just off one weekend.
“We used to get, ‘Why would anybody come to Columbia?,’ said Scott Powers, executive director of Experience Columbia SC Sports, the new name for the Columbia Regional Sports Council. “I don’t think anybody’s asking that question anymore. This is just another beginning for us.”
It’s the first men’s regional the city has had since 1970, and the second for the state since the NCAA lifted its ban on predetermined championship events once the Confederate flag was removed from the State House grounds. Greenville, which hosted a regional in March, after it was yanked from North Carolina, was also rewarded Tuesday. It landed a women’s regional (third and fourth rounds) for March 2020 and a men’s regional in March 2022.
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In all, South Carolina was awarded six NCAA championship events after Myrtle Beach, Salem and Rock Hill also were tabbed hosts for men’s golf and men’s/women’s cross country. The economic impact of the events could total $35-40 million.
“We are, indeed, the new Southern hotspot and also the home of college basketball,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “What a way to cap off the most fantastic year in the basketball history of the state’s flagship university.”
There are two potential drawbacks. One, if the Gamecocks men’s team makes the 2019 NCAA tournament, it won’t be eligible to play at CLA. The team would be sent to another site for the first and second rounds because teams are prohibited from playing in their home arenas.
Two, if USC’s national champion women’s team makes the 2019 tournament as one of the top 16 seeds, it won’t be able to host the first and second rounds despite earning it. NCAA regulations won’t allow one arena to host a men’s and women’s regional simultaneously, and each first/second round would be held on the same weekend.
It’s no guarantee the women’s team will make the tournament or be a hosting team for the first and second rounds, but considering the Gamecocks have hosted the past three years and have led the country in attendance the same amount of time, it’s a solid bet the NCAA would try to let USC host in the future. If there is a conflict with the women’s team in 2019, sources have confirmed to The State that a contingency is in place – the USC women would be able to play the first and second rounds within the state, most likely in Greenville.
“Our plans would be to submit a waiver to be able to host outside of the 50-mile radius,” athletics director Ray Tanner said. “Should we be in that position, we will do everything we can to host in another locale.”
Still, Dawn Staley probably found reason to smile. After complaining about her No. 1 seed team being sent far away from home for the women’s third and fourth rounds for the second year in a row, the NCAA placed the next round of regionals very close to home.
The 2019 women’s regionals will be held in Greensboro, N.C., from where the Gamecocks advanced to their first Final Four in 2015. That gives USC a possibility of playing in Greenville, then Greensboro, to get to the 2019 Final Four (Tampa, Fla.). The 2020 regionals will be held in Greenville, where the Gamecocks won this year’s SEC tournament, giving USC the possibility of never having to leave the state to advance to the 2020 Final Four (New Orleans).
The road to the 2019 men’s Final Four could start in Columbia.
“We’re excited we’re going to have the opportunity to host the teams trying to get to the Final Four,” Tanner said. “When those eight teams come in here to play, they’ll be playing under two banners that say Final Four and one banner that says national champions.”
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The NCAA announced its destinations for the 2019-22 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Tuesday.
2019-22 First Four: Dayton, Ohio
2019 First/Second Rounds: Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbia; Salt Lake City; Tulsa, Okla.; Des Moines; Seattle; Hartford, Conn.
2019 Regionals: Kansas City, Mo;. Louisville, Ky.; Anaheim, Calif.; Washington
2019 Final Four: Minneapolis
2020 First/Second Rounds: Spokane, Wash.; St. Louis; Tampa, Fla.; Albany, N.Y.; Sacramento, Calif.; Omaha, Neb.; Cleveland; Greensboro, N.C.
2020 Regionals: Los Angeles; Indianapolis; Houston; New York
2020 Final Four: Atlanta
2021 First/Second Rounds: Dallas; Detroit; Boise, Idaho; Lexington, Ky.; Wichita, Kan.; Raleigh, N.C.; Providence, R.I.; San Jose, Calif.
2021 Regionals: Brooklyn, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis; Denver
2021 Final Four: Indianapolis
2022 First/Second Rounds: Greenville; Pittsburgh; San Diego; Buffalo, N.Y.; Fort Worth, Texas; Milwaukee; Cincinnati; Portland, Ore.
2022 Regionals: Philadelphia; Chicago; San Antonio; San Francisco
2022 Final Four: New Orleans
(2018 First Four: Dayton, Ohio. 2018 First/Second rounds: Pittsburgh; Wichita, Kan.; Dallas; Boise, Idaho; Charlotte; Detroit; Nashville, Tenn.; San Diego. 2018 Regionals: Atlanta; Los Angeles; Boston; Omaha, Neb. 2018 Final Four: San Antonio)
All first/second rounds are merit-based and will be hosted by the Top 16 seeds of each tournament.
2019 Regionals: Albany, N.Y.; Chicago; Greensboro, N.C.; Portland, Ore.
2019 Final Four: Tampa, Fla.
2020 Regionals: Dallas; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greenville; Portland, Ore.
2020 Final Four: New Orleans
(2018 Regionals: Albany, N.Y.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lexington, Ky.; Spokane, Wash.. 2018 Final Four: Columbus, Ohio)
Men’s golf regional, May 2019: Myrtle Beach (host Coastal Carolina)
Men’s golf regional, May 2020: Salem (host Clemson)
Men’s/women’s cross country regional, Nov. 2018: Rock Hill (host Winthrop)