Two rising Midwest cities, Detroit and Columbus, are making big plans for the future. The sports commissions of both cities submitted bids in hopes of garnering first weekend and regional finals in men’s basketball. Columbus is also looking to land a regional final for women’s basketball.
Detroit hinges its hopes on the still unfinished Little Caeser’s Arena, opening next September as Hockeytown’s new NHL facility. Despite internet heckling over its name and investigations over the ethics of its financing and building, the new arena promises to be spectacular. While they probably can’t go after the Final Four–the new arena is too small–the NCAA has a history of awarding tournament sites to sparkling new venues.
Michigan State wasn’t submitted as a host, but they’ve had tremendous success in their home state, advancing to the 2000 Final Four from the Palace of Auburn Hills in their championship season, and losing the 2009 title to UNC’s behemoth. Given Tom Izzo’s ability to coach up his players––only one group of Seniors have never made the Final Four in 21 seasons––it’s not insane to suggest Sparty could be playing for a Final Four birth just 90 miles from home.
Michigan played their way into the Sweet Sixteen from the Palace in 2013 on the way to the Championship Game, where they lost a close and entertaining contest to Louisville. Following a minor slide, John Beilein's got the recruiting engine going again, giving Wolverine fans realistic dreams of future Final Four appearances.
Columbus, on the other hand, is a curious case.
Nationwide Arena has hosted four first weekend games since 2000, but has never witnessed a regional final. The building is fourteen years old, usually not a sexy pick for the NCAA, but Columbus features a bustling local economy. Last year, Forbes marked the fast-growing city #11 on their list of Best Places for Businesses and Careers. It’s also home to the women’s Final Four in 2018.
If awarded, Ohio State will host the first weekend games. But the MAC’s Ohio University will serve as proposed host of the regional final. 74 miles southeast of Columbus, this would be a neat little workaround that would potentially allow the Buckeyes to be slotted as participants in that region’s bracket.
Like with Sparty, a lot of things would have to fall into place on the Buckeyes end for them to advance to the Final Four from their home city. But Thad Matta's two Final Fours and six Sweet Sixteens over twelve seasons matches OSU’s postseason success of the three decades preceding his arrived. In a football mad town that’s an incredible accomplishment.
The revenue here is staggering. The Columbus Sports Commission reports that first weekend men’s games from previous years brought in $10 million each weekend, with women’s first round contests taking in $4 million for the local economy. Detroit estimated that they’d take $30 to $50 million for the 2009 Final Four.
Finalists will be announced in late October, with the host sites announced on December 7th of this year.