COLUMBIA — A panel of the movers and shakers behind Columbia’s looming NCAA Tournament regional answered questions Monday about all the issues involving the games. They addressed parking, beer sales, hotels and foot traffic for the weekend of March 22-24.
They didn’t — because they couldn’t — fully answer one particular question.
What happens to South Carolina’s women’s team if it’s selected to host an NCAA regional for the fifth consecutive year?
“The women would have to play at another site,” USC executive associate athletics director Charles Bloom said. “We have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The awarding of Columbia’s first men’s regional since 1970 came with that price, but one that was known when the bid was being submitted. Since the men’s and women’s tournaments begin the same weekend (the men’s, outside of the first four games, starts March 21, while the women’s starts March 22), they can’t be in the same building.
Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks have hosted a regional in each of the past four years, but they’re awarded strictly by merit. If a team does enough during the regular season to host, as USC clearly has the past four years, it gets the first two rounds at home.
USC knew that the women’s team would be forced out of Colonial Life Arena if it received a men’s regional but also knew that it wasn’t definite that USC’s women would win a host site (likewise, if USC’s men’s team makes the NCAA Tournament, it cannot play in the Columbia regional). The Gamecocks are 12-4 and headed to Mississippi State on Thursday to decide undisputed first place in the SEC, but at least from the early projections, USC was not being thought of as a host (the Gamecocks were traveling to College Park, Md., in ESPN’s latest mock bracket).
Yet there’s a lot of season left, and if USC plays its way into hosting consideration, it stands to reason that it would win any kind of “tiebreaker” the selection committee might face. The NCAA women’s tournament has had sagging attendance over the years, which is a big reason it went back to merit-based hosts for the first two rounds. USC, which has led the country in attendance for the past four years, would offer a lot more potential fans for a regional and would be a heavy bet to win a host if it came down to a few schools for a final spot.
But where would they play? CLA is not an option. Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena is already booked that weekend for a comedy show featuring “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and Greenville Swamp Rabbits hockey. North Charleston Coliseum is also out due to another Noah performance and South Carolina Stingrays hockey.
Other arenas within the state are also booked, although some, such as Charleston's TD Arena and McAlister Field House, remain free. The NCAA 2019 host operations manual also clarifies that a host site may be played within 30 miles of its regular gym should the regular gym not be available, but the “committee retains flexibility to make an exception to this policy when necessary.”
Bloom said that no site has been finalized, which is sensible considering USC can’t ask an arena to plan for an event that may not happen. The Gamecocks have to earn a host spot before they can host.
But after a tough start, USC has won eight straight games and is ranked 15th in the country. If they can keep up that trend, it seems there would be no doubt that they would host.