Bring Women’s NCAA Sweet 16 to Vegas

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The hoard of college basketball fans have departed. 

Sure, there’ll be a few stragglers who hang around for this week’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight NCAA Tournament games. There might be some fresh faces with fresh bankrolls who come to town for their taste of March Madness.

But Las Vegas is always thinking ahead of the curve. And while there will be tourist traffic this coming weekend, it pales to what the invasion was last week where hundreds of thousands of college hoops fans descended upon the city, cash in hand, T-shirts from just about every school in America and a few that sported the hilarious slogan: “Good Coaches Win, Great Coaches Cover.”

So what does Las Vegas do to keep the party going?

It should try to convince the NCAA to bring its women’s basketball tournament to T-Mobile Arena. And not just a regional. No, we’re talking the entire Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

It’s a brilliant idea. Sixteen schools. Students. Pep Bands. Parents of players. Fans. WNBA coaches and scouts. Yes, even bettors.

The whole Mishegoss. All at one site.

“We think it would work,” said Pat Christenson, the president of Las Vegas Events, which would help facilitate such a move. “But there is no plan right now. It has to come from the NCAA.” 

Would the NCAA go for it? Would it be willing to take an important competition and set up camp in the mecca of gambling?

After all, we know the NCAA’s stance on betting. It’s root canal to those in charge. Still, the fact that sports betting is proliferating and spreading throughout the country gives pause for the NCAA to seriously consider the idea.

Reality can sometimes hit you like a slap in the face. And for the NCAA, this is the reality in 2019. 

“We anticipate that probably by 2020 or 2021 there will be potentially 30 states that are allowing sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s senior vice president for championships, told the Associated Press last week. “We’re going to have to work in the environment that we have.”

So maybe there’s hope. 

From the city’s standpoint, bringing the women’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight to town means thousands of filled hotel rooms and packed restaurants, millions in revenue and plenty of excitement.

We have our own WNBA Team, the Aces, and women’s college basketball has improved dramatically since UNLV hosted a regional at the Thomas & Mack Center back in the early 1990s. The sport has a loyal following and the fans who travel to various regionals around the country can make a week of it in Las Vegas. 

It would ultimately be less expensive, those ridiculous resort fees aside, and to set up camp in town and get to really enjoy the city would be a huge win for Las Vegas.

The Pac-12 brought its women’s tournament to the MGM Grand Garden a couple of weeks ago and the attendance was good. The Mountain West and WCC also play their women’s events in Las Vegas and no one worries about corruption or players getting into trouble.

We’ve even had the USA Basketball women’s national team train here and they loved it. My guess is Geno Auriemma could put in a good word with the NCAA on Vegas’ behalf.

From the NCAA’s standpoint, it would work financially. The cost of travel would be reduced as you’re going from four sites to one. You are saving money on renting arenas as you need one, maybe two venues compared to four. And your staff that is required to put on the regionals can all be centrally located at one site.

Surely someone in Indianapolis can pull out a calculator, do the math and see that it works to be at one place rather than four. If not, we’ll be glad to loan out GT columnist Elliot Frome to the NCAA to help with the numbers, for a fee of course. 

Christenson said the template for bringing the Women’s Sweet 16 to Las Vegas is baseball and softball. The NCAA holds its College World Series in the same city every year — Omaha, Nebraska for baseball, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for softball. Fans of those sports make an annual pilgrimage and the cities reap huge financial benefits.

“It’s about finding a home for the event,” Christenson said of the women’s basketball Sweet 16. “The World Series for baseball and softball are perfect examples of how you commit to a city to build a following.

“I have no doubt that if the NCAA brought the Women’s Sweet 16 basketball tournament to Las Vegas and committed to it over time that it would work. If you have it in one place and stay with it, I think you’re a whole lot better off. And Vegas is the best opportunity to do it.”

While the NCAA mulls it over a “Women’s Sweet 16 to Vegas” plan, if it’s even on its radar, Las Vegas Events is moving forward with bids this summer to bring NCAA championship events to town in the next bid cycle for 2023 to 2026.

Included is the men’s basketball regionals, the men’s hockey Frozen Four and the men’s wrestling championships. All would be wildly successful in Las Vegas, particularly the Frozen Four. With the Golden Knights having turned Vegas into a hockey town, the Frozen Four would be supported locally as well as by the participating teams.

“Think about this,” Christenson said. “There’s more than 15,000 hotel rooms a short walking distance from T-Mobile Arena. The athlete experience and the fan experience, the two most important factors the NCAA considers when awarding bids to cities for its events, would be amazing, with the restaurants, bars, shops and the shows. I can’t think of a better place to host any NCAA championship.”

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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