Organizers envision Women's Final Four as a 'Nashville event'

Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:49pm

Gary Alexander thinks back to the first weekend of May 2010.

While a flood displaced thousands and took several lives, he, like many Nashville residents, was amazed at the outpouring of support as strangers raced to the side of those in need and provided help and comfort any way they could.

“Everybody got engaged to help our community,” Alexander recalls.

In 11-plus months he expects the same sense of community to pride to bubble over once again. And this time a natural disaster won’t be necessary.

Next spring, Nashville will be at the epicenter of women’s college basketball as host of the 2014 Women’s Final Four.

Alexander, the event’s executive director and senior vice president of the Nashville Sports Council, says the Final Four will be more than just three games over two days at Bridgestone Arena. More than a thousand volunteers will be needed to help during the weeklong event, which will include a national coaches’ convention, NCAA youth clinics, community programs, a 4K race and an interactive fan festival.

“Everyone will be engaged with the Women’s Final Four. It will absolutely engulf our community,” Alexander said. “It is not a Sports Council event. It is not an Ohio Valley Conference event. It is a Nashville event. You can see that from the mayor talking about the Music City Center and the Women’s Final Four. You’ve heard him in his speeches talk about the Women’s Final Four. I mean, the politicos are engaged. The business people are engaged. … It has already started. I just think it will rally the community around a very positive event.”

By the time teams and fans descend upon Music City next April 6-8, the event will have been six years in the making. Nashville won the bid in 2008 to bring a NCAA Division I national championship to the city for the first time and second in the Middle Tennessee area — Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin hosted the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship last May.

The event will be co-hosted by the Nashville Sports Council and the Ohio Valley Conference, which has its headquarters are in Brentwood. Fourteen board members make up the Nashville Local Organizing Committee (NLOC), which oversees the organization of the events. Those community leaders will head up several committees, including transportation, hospitality and city services.

Both staffs from the Sports Council and OVC spent several days two weeks ago in New Orleans to shadow organizers at the 2013 Women’s Final Four.

“It is a massive undertaking,” OVC commissioner and NLOC chair Beth DeBauche said earlier this week. “What we ask our staff to do is really take a view of how you do things step for step so when we get back it will assist us with our planning.”

Starting in May, NCAA officials will visit Nashville once a month to check in on the progress and discuss concerns ranging from hotels, the arena, working with ESPN and the budget.

Of course, running a Final Four isn’t cheap and the NLOC has a fundraising goal of $3 million. According to Alexander, more than $1 million has been raised through individual and corporate donations. The payoff is an economic impact expected to eclipse $20 million — Alexander is crossing his fingers for the $25-30 million range.

“We are really putting [Nashville] — we hope — on the map in terms of intercollegiate events,” DeBauche said. “It is a wonderful way to showcase our city. It is also a very good way to showcase our conference and the Sports Council. From an OVC standpoint … it will be a good community player to enhance our visibility locally but also nationally.”

Along with the games, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) National Convention will be held at the Music City Center and is expected to draw 2,000 coaches and more than 3,000 attendees. The WBCA High School All-America Game will be held at Bridgestone Arena the day before the Final Four and will be free to the public.

As for entertainment outside the arena, “Tourney Town” will offer games, contests, giveaways, concerts and a pep rally. The NCAA will organize free basketball — and other team sports — clinics for boys and girls ages 8-16.

More than 2,500 children will participate in the Basketball Bounce, a staple at all Final Fours. Alexander said the hope is to have the Nashville version bounce down Broadway. A 4Kay Run will be held in honor of former North Carolina State women’s coach Kay Yow with the proceeds going to cancer research through the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Finally, four legacy programs are planned to leaving a lasting impact on the Nashville youth.

The NCAA’s Middle School Madness program will promote art, music and reading. A partnership with the Nashville Public Library is in place to educate youth on women’s achievements in sports. They will also create murals that will be displayed throughout the city.

There will be several forums, including one discussing the media’s portrayal of female athletes. A college forum and college fair will inform high school students about academic and athletic opportunities in college. In addition, area female business leaders will offer a mentoring program to local students.

Alexander said it will culminate in a luncheon with a keynote speaker to be determined. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice served as the 2010 speaker in San Antonio.

“We’re looking big,” Alexander said.

And time is of the essence.

Though the 2013 Final Four ended just nine days ago, Alexander knows he only has 354 before the four teams land in Nashville. He wants to make every one of them count.

“Trust me, every day I look at my calendar it gets closer and closer,” he said. “When the basketball teams leave town and the trash is picked up we want to still leave a legacy in the city of Nashville.”