USC Men's Basketball

Columbia, Colonial Life Arena set to discover NCAA men’s regional future

Colonial Life Arena will host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2019.
Colonial Life Arena will host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2019. File photo

Colonial Life Arena already hosts two Final Four teams.

It’s hoping to add more.

Columbia and its basketball arena will find out on Tuesday if they won a bid to host an NCAA men’s basketball regional from 2019-22.

The city is hoping for the same success as Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which hosted a men’s regional in March. The NCAA estimated the event brought at least $3.6 million to Greenville, as Final Four participants South Carolina and North Carolina each began their journeys there.

Columbia could have bid on that regional after it was yanked from North Carolina in response to the state’s HB2 law. But Columbia officials couldn’t get enough hotel rooms to accommodate the request. It’s hoping to get a men’s regional in the next four-year cycle – Greenville also bid – and take its turn in sharing the wealth.

“I’m very confident,” Columbia Regional Sports Council Executive Director Scott Powers said in October. “I think Columbia and Greenville will each get one.”

The Sports Council bid on 13 NCAA championship events over the 2019-22 period. Any one of them will bring money to the city; if Columbia gets a majority of its bids approved, it should be a tremendous windfall.

“Anywhere from $10 (million) to $11 million per year, easy,” Jason Outman, Executive Director for Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in October. “Basketball alone is $10.5 million for 2019, and it increases by $150,000 per year. Men’s golf is $329,000 per year, women’s golf is $225,250 per year and men’s and women’s tennis is $516,750 per year.”

Columbia is in a strong position, but North Carolina, which has consistently hosted men’s regionals, was able to bid on future events, as well. North Carolina repealed elements of HB2 and the NCAA agreed the new standards met minimal requirements for hosting, although it made it clear its members “reluctantly voted” to let North Carolina host again.

A previously scheduled regional will be held in Charlotte in 2018. Columbia and Greenville are hoping to battle Charlotte and Raleigh for a regional over the next four-year period.

Greenville was good to the Gamecocks this year, as “The Well” hosted the women’s SEC Tournament and then the men’s regionals. Dawn Staley’s women’s team won its third consecutive SEC championship on the way to its first national championship, while Frank Martin’s team played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years and beat Marquette and Duke in Greenville on its way to the Final Four.

Columbia winning a host spot would raise two issues. If Martin’s team makes the NCAA Tournament in that season, it couldn’t play at Colonial Life Arena. The economic impact could be alleviated since fans of other schools – particularly a Tobacco Road/ACC school that could make it – will fill the building.

But it could also affect Staley’s team. The regional would be held the same weekend as the start of the women’s NCAA Tournament. Even if the tournaments are played on different days, USC could not host a women’s regional at the same time.

The women’s tournament switched to merit-based regionals in 2015, and the Gamecocks have taken advantage of it. They’ve hosted the past three seasons, and while they’re not guaranteed to host in any future year that Colonial Life Arena might win a men’s regional, it seems likely they will be good enough to earn that advantage.

In that scenario, sources close to the situation have assured The State that Staley’s Gamecocks will be able to play at an arena “within the state’s borders.” That would likely be in Greenville.

While it hurts the women to not play at home – if they were to earn it in whatever year – the economic impact to the Midlands would be enormous.

“We’ve never been able to say we’ve hosted basketball or other high-profile events,” Powers said. “Hosting them, hosting them well, proving to ourselves that we really can do it, you never know when someone starts thinking, ‘Well, now Columbia can be a great host.’ 

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HOPING ...

Columbia has bid for 13 NCAA championship events from 2019-22

  • 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First/Second Rounds
  • 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First/Second Rounds
  • 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First/Second Rounds
  • 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First/Second Rounds
  • 2019 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship
  • 2021 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship
  • 2022 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship
  • 2019 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship
  • 2021 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship
  • 2022 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship
  • 2019 NCAA Division II Men’s & Women’s Tennis Championship
  • 2021 NCAA Division II Men’s & Women’s Tennis Championship
  • 2022 NCAA Division II Men’s & Women’s Tennis Championship
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