Nine months remain before the first NCAA Division I national championship comes to downtown Nashville.
While excitement builds for the Women’s Final Four next April, city officials hopes the women’s basketball championship offers Music City an opportunity to become a regular title town.
“I think we are now in a position that whatever the event is we can compete for it,” Mayor Karl Dean said recently. “There is just a good buzz about the city and we should not be afraid to talk about it.”
Scott Ramsey is doing much more than talking. As president of the Nashville Sports Council, Ramsey is taking a proactive approach into bringing more national championships to the city.
“We’re going to look at everything,” he said. “Then we’re going to try to weed through the ones we think we have the best chance to land and host successfully.”
A couple weeks ago, Ramsey traveled to Indianapolis, home of NCAA headquarters, for a national championship hosting symposium. On July 15, a bid portal will open with specific specifications for 82 of the NCAA’s 89 championships across Divisions I, II and III. Cities have until Sept. 16 to bid for more than 500 preliminary and final host sites for the 2014-15 through 2017-18 academic years. Bid sites would be awarded in December.
The deadline for men’s and women’s Final Fours sites for 2017, 2018 and 2019 won't be until May 2, 2014. Sites will be awarded fall 2014. In addition, no requests will be taken for Division I baseball, softball and Football Championship Subdivision championships — which already have hosting deals in place — and men’s and women’s golf. The 2012 Division I women’s golf championship was hosted at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.
“We want to make sure the NCAA is pleased with what we’re doing but we think we’re well equipped to be fine hosts,” said Beth DeBauche, commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and co-chair of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee (NLOC) for the Women’s Final Four. “Our hope would be that when the NCAA thinks of hosting cities they think of Nashville, Tenn.”
Added Ramsey: “We’re certainly a very dynamic city that is certainly on the radar.”
Ramsey said the Nashville Sports Council is focused on bidding primarily for Division I national championships, including another Women’s Final Four and a Frozen Four, the national championship of men's ice hockey.
Basketball and Bridgestone Arena has been a successful partnership. The 20,000-seat venue hosted the second and third rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament in 2012. The Southeastern Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have also taken up shop, most recently this past March. The league’s men’s tournament will return in 2015, 2016 and 2019 and Ramsey has hopes of making Bridgestone Arena the primary site for the SEC. He said hosting a Men’s Final Four is not a possibility due to the NCAA’s 60,000-seat requirement. But he expects Nashville to be in the bidding for the early rounds along with the regional semifinals and finals.
Bringing the Division I men’s hockey championship to the South is not far-fetched. Bridgestone easily eclipses the 18,000-seat requirement. Plus, in 2012 Tampa became the first Southern city to host a Frozen Four.
“Given the growth and the success of the Predators over the years,” Ramsey said, “that committee has traditionally looked at a non-traditional site, which would be the Southeast a little bit. So I think that is an event we’re anxious to see more details on and to think about.”
Ramsey hesitated to say what other championships the city would bid for and said some of those decisions were dependent upon timing and resources. Some possibilities, based on facilities requirements, include soccer, cross country and wrestling.
Along with the Nashville Sports Council, the mayor’s office, ownership from the Predators and Bridgestone Arena, LP Field officials and leadership in the hospitality industry and at the Music City Center will collaborate on bidding decisions. Ramsey also said the city must be careful not to bid on events with dates that will coincide with the Country Music Marathon, Music City Bowl and SEC basketball tournaments.
“I think it is a chance to look at the big spectrum,” he said. “You want to make sure if you get an event that you can make it successful. If you start trying to spread yourself too thin sometimes and have an event doesn’t come off well, either operationally or from a funding or a sponsorship or resource standpoint, it really sets you back from a reputation as a host city.
“I think it is very important for us to be very strategic and deliberate as we think through the future schedule of events.”