‘More eyes on us’: SC capital city primed for first NCAA men’s tournament games on the grounds that 1970

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COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s capital town is ready to turn its big basketball moment right into a statement.

With more than 25,000 people predicted, Columbia has worked with restaurants and points of interest to hold concert events, fan fests and games to have a good time the town website hosting the NCAA men’s basketball match for the first time due to the fact 1970.

Riverbanks Zoo will feature area basketballs with kangaroos, seals and ostriches. The movie “Hoosiers” can be shown on the Riverwalk. And a tune fest will take over Main Street.

“After the Super Bowl, March Madness is a 2d satisfactory way to introduce humans on your network,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin stated. “It’s a possibility to reveal we’re a twenty-first-century metropolis where people need to make investments, work and play.”

The long weekend of first- and 2nd-round video games on Friday and Sunday additionally could help recruit students — as well as potential athletes — to the University of South Carolina, the nation’s flagship university.

“This will resonate with quite a few the children,” stated Dennis Powell, a former USC basketball participant who heads the Columbia Tip-Off Club. “It can use the handiest assist.”

In a metropolis where sports activities and politics mix, Columbia will host two of the hottest stars in every on Friday.

Beto O’Rourke, the Kennedy-esque former Texas congressman, jogging for president, comes to the University of South Carolina campus hours before Zion Williamson, the freshman celebrity from Duke University, takes the court docket in a tournament opener at Colonial Life Arena.

Columbia may see greater enthusiasts for a University of South Carolina soccer recreation or entice more celebrated visitors for the eclipse remaining 12 months, but the NCAA match draws thousands and thousands of enthusiasts watching on tv. And Columbia is the handiest metropolis website hosting No. 1 event seeds — Virginia and Duke.

“This has greater eyes on us than most activities we do,” said Sid Kenyon, Colonial Life Arena’s widespread supervisor.

The return
South Carolina turned into inside the spotlight for different reasons over a decade while the NCAA banned pre-selected tournaments within the country over the Confederate flag flying on the Statehouse grounds. (South Carolina ought to host NCAA championship games if groups obtained them on the advantage, like the USC women’s basketball crew.)

That saved South Carolina from bidding for the beneficial guys’ basketball match until the flag became removed in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church shooting. The NCAA ban in conjunction with an NAACP boycott stung the metropolis.

“I’m no longer certain we’ll be capable of quantifying what we misplaced out on with capital investment and tourism and expertise because human beings notion we have been illiberal while it becomes our Legislature that did not have ethical braveness to act,” Benjamin said.

“I’d be in conferences with (capability enterprise prospects), and we’d take a look at all their containers, however then the flag got here up.”

South Carolina’s first put up-ban men’s basketball tournament games got here in 2017 in Greenville where USC started its Final Four run.

Ironically, Greenville was given the primary- and 2d-round games when the NCAA pulled out of Greensboro, N.C., over the country’s regulation prescribing the rights of transgender humans. Greenville will host games again in 2022.

The task
Columbia can bid for more match video games beginning in 2023, however, getting the NCAA to come a 3rd time again isn’t guaranteed.

 

Columbia does now not have sufficient lodges that meet the NCAA qualifications. In addition to an extensive variety of rooms, groups every need three large assembly rooms, and motels have to have on-site food carrier.

The NCAA permits Columbia to slide this time and could achieve this once more underneath the proper instances, said Scott Powers, who recruits sports occasions for Experience Columbia SC, the town’s tourism arm.

“I suppose we want to expose them what we do have works perfectly,” Powers said. “We want to expose them that the inns we do have are top notch and that it’s clean to move around the town.”

With No. 1 seeds, an expected weigh down of college officers and media members coming to Columbia led tourism officers to ask some accommodations to maintain extra rooms at NCAA quotes lower than what accommodations ought to rate to deal with the overflow crowd, Powers stated.

The overwhelm from the tournament is going on as loads of families arrive in town for a regular cycle of commencement ceremonies at the Army’s Fort Jackson education base. The cooperation and coordination among lodges ought to enhance chances to win a future match bid, Powers stated.

“Business does now not shut down with March Madness,” he said. “The NCAA will see that we’re looking to do the proper factor and do it the right manner.”

City leaders held 3,000 rooms for the groups, college and NCAA officials and the media. Fans are predicted to take any other 2,000 rooms, Powers stated.

Since such a lot of first-time traffic are predicted, Columbia could have volunteers carrying turquoise shirts with “Ask Me” on the front at resorts and on downtown streets to direct fanatics around town.

“I assume we’re prepared,” Powers stated.

The crowds
Doing properly additionally ought to assist Columbia land on other occasions.

They ought to include huge newbie and children song and discipline events as well as other NCAA tournaments, such as beach volleyball, golfing and tennis, Powers stated.

The NCAA’s Division II girls’ golf championship is scheduled for Woodcreek Farms in close by Elgin.

Columbia is used to having big crowds this time of 12 months.

The NCAA tournament is coming two weeks before every other busy time in Columbia while resorts and restaurants are packed with fans attending The Masters golfing tournament, a bit greater than an hour west in Augusta, Ga.

Motor Supply Co. Bistro, a famous downtown restaurant, generally names cocktails with golfing subject matters all through The Masters week.

But the eating place five blocks from the arena has named cocktails after city points of interest this week to give traffic insight to the town.

“We can have humans flowing inside and out all game day,” Motor Supply owner Eddie Wales said. “There’s sincerely a buzz here.”

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