College Sports

Columbia, USC finalizing bid to host NCAA men’s regional

Colonial Life Arena, which had a sellout for the South Carolina and Connecticut women’s game, could host an NCAA men’s regional.
Colonial Life Arena, which had a sellout for the South Carolina and Connecticut women’s game, could host an NCAA men’s regional. mwalsh@thestate.com

South Carolina will see a predetermined postseason event played within its borders for the first time since 2005 when the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament is held in Greenville next March.

Why stop there?

Columbia is finalizing a bid to host an NCAA men’s basketball tournament regional at Colonial Life Arena. The NCAA will consider host sites for regionals in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 and the city and university are aggressively lobbying to be one of them.

“It’s just too great an opportunity for the city of Columbia to pass up,” said Ron Morris, former columnist for The State and the man who has spearheaded Columbia’s NCAA basketball initiative. “This could have an economic impact of 10 to 15 million dollars for the city and the Midlands, for one weekend. There’s never been an event in the history of the city to have that type of impact.”

Morris, a college basketball fan for 50 years who has covered it for several publications and wrote “ACC Basketball: An Illustrated History,” proposed the idea to the city after the Confederate flag was lowered in July.

With the NCAA’s boycott of predetermined championship events in the state ending, Morris thought it would be a good idea if the city and USC would bid on a future NCAA tournament regional, or hire somebody to oversee the process.

The city agreed and asked Morris to lead it. Morris is being paid $28,800 as a consultant to the city, or for 20 hours per week since July. He estimates he’s worked up to 60 hours per week on the project.

Morris interviewed 35 to 40 city and athletic department officials at arenas and host cities who won previous bids, discovering what it took to get a bid and what Columbia needed to do to make its bid one of the best.

Working with USC athletic officials Ray Tanner, Kevin O’Connell and Charles Waddell along with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, City Manager Teresa Wilson and others, Morris has labored for 10 months on a plan that will win an NCAA regional.

In the middle of the research, North Carolina passed the controversial HB2 bill into law. The NCAA promptly responded by saying discrimination has no part in their business, and would start considering host sites based on the host’s acceptance of all people.

North Carolina has been a popular spot for past NCAA basketball regionals, with Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh taking turns. With the new law threatening to take North Carolina off the list of potential host states, South Carolina could benefit.

“We have been a state that shows very strong people, of faith, and of kindness, and of acceptance, but also willingness to move forward,” Gov. Nikki Haley said on Monday, when Greenville was chosen for the SEC women’s tournament. “And so this is really a tribute to the people of South Carolina, for showing that we are ready to welcome in any tournament that wants to come.”

Morris’ plan is to keep Columbia and USC ahead of the curve in being accommodating hosts. The bid will be finalized and submitted by mid-August (other cities and arenas in South Carolina might also be bidding) and the NCAA will do its own checking into the site, including visits, and then announce the winners by the end of the year.

“I’m so confident we’ll win and it will pay off in the end,” Morris said. “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ You just can’t miss an opportunity to bring an event of that magnitude to the city of Columbia.”

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