Josh Kendall

If South Dakota can host NCAAs, why not state of South Carolina?

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson (22) shoots over Jacksonville's forward Kimberly Dawkins (13) during the first round of the NCAA Division 1 basketball championship at Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina's A'ja Wilson (22) shoots over Jacksonville's forward Kimberly Dawkins (13) during the first round of the NCAA Division 1 basketball championship at Colonial Life Arena. tglantz@thestate.com

Sioux Falls? Seriously?

That’s where South Carolina’s women’s basketball team is headed next week – insert the obligatory “If the Gamecocks beat Kansas State in the NCAA Round of 32 on Sunday.”

Sioux Falls is the host of South Carolina’s regional and will be the site of the three games that determine which of the 16 teams in this regional advance to the Final Four. In the interest of full disclosure, Sioux Falls is purported to be a nice town, but if South Dakota can host an NCAA women’s regional why can’t Columbia, S.C.?

For the last 15 years, the answer to that question has been because the Confederate flag hung on the State House grounds. The NAACP’s response to the flag was an economic boycott of the state, a cause the NCAA supported by not allowing South Carolina to bid for any predetermined championship events (Baseball regionals and women’s first- and second-round NCAA hosting events did not fall under that ban because they were merit-based decisions.)

The flag has come down now, which has opened up an opportunity for Columbia. Colonial Life Arena proved Friday night, when 10,276 energetic fans showed up to watch South Carolina’s top-seeded women shrug off No. 16 seed Jacksonville 77-41, that it can provide a great environment for college basketball in March.

City officials clearly agree. Columbia and USC are working on a bid that will be submitted in August to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament in 2019, 2020, 2021 or 2022. (All tournament sites through 2018 already have been awarded.) The winners of the 2019-2022 bids will be announced later this year.

March basketball is something to behold, as Middle Tennessee State, Hawaii and Yale already have taught us again this year. Columbia has only hosted one NCAA men’s tournament event in its history, and that came in 1970. That’s too long to wait.

There is no similar bid in the works for an NCAA women’s regional, but one could be on the horizon shortly.

“I’m sure we will look at that, but we have not started that process,” said Megan Kennington, South Carolina’s director of operations for event management and sport camps. “We would absolutely be interested in it.”

You can bet Columbia is not the only city in South Carolina where wheels started turning as the flag was being lowered down that pole. In fact, the site of next year’s SEC women’s basketball tournament is expected to be announced in the next three weeks, and the word on the street is that Greenville is the pick, although SEC director of communications Tammy Wilson declined to address that speculation Friday night. You can expect Greenville to try to lure the NCAA as well.

The city and university are smart to have started on a bid so immediately, and hopefully put the state’s 15-year, self-inflicted wound in the rear-view mirror as quickly as possible.

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