The NCAA rarely doesn’t pick North Carolina as a host for its biggest event, the Big Dance. Over the past decade-and-a-half, four cities in the Tar Heel State have been part of the NCAA Tournament‘s cycle. It’s far and away the most popular/consistent state to get dibs on Dance duties. Charlotte hosted in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2015. Greensboro was selected in 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2012. Winston-Salem was an NCAA tourney site in 2000 and 2007. Raleigh had honors in 2004, 2008, 2014 and 2016. The only years this century the tournament wasn’t played inside state borders: ’02, ’03, ’10 and ’13.
And now, as we learned Monday night, the NCAA Tournament won’t be coming to the state of North Carolina in 2017 either.
The NCAA’s powerful decision to indefinitely take its men’s basketball tournament out of the state of North Carolina because of objections to HB2 has presented the organization with a time-sensitive dilemma. Greensboro was scheduled to be a Big Dance host for the first weekend in 2017. Now, with approximately six months until the best American sporting event gets going again, a new site has to be picked, posthaste. Buffalo, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Orlando, Tulsa, Sacramento and Salt Lake City are already taken.
So where should the NCAA move the pod to?
I’m told by a prominent source inside the NCAA that the East region will get the replacement site, so some city along the East Coast is going to inherit first- and second-round games. North or south, it doesn’t matter. That opens up a lot of possibilities, and there are plenty of good options out there. Neighboring South Carolina, which has three potential spots — Greenville, Columbia, Charleston — could be a good choice. The state is now eligible after being ineligible for so long due to its previous allegiances to the Confederate Flag. Virginia/DC/Maryland have a few nice options as well.
A source told me that a half-dozen cities have already sent in requests to host, and that number should grow. There will be a formal bid process, but it will be extremely accelerated. Cities and potential venues have until Sept. 27 to put their name into the mix. The men’s basketball selection committee will take less than two weeks to review all applications and then, on Friday, Oct. 7, the NCAA will announce which city will be awarded as Greensboro’s replacement.
So, given this is a unique circumstance, the NCAA should take advantage and offer up a creative, memorable, one-time-only substitute. Philadelphia’s representatives should be putting in a bid, and in doing so, allowing the NCAA to pick a spot synonymous not just with basketball, but with the history of college basketball and a place with a rich past of hosting NCAA Tournament games.
The spot so many refer to as “the birthplace of college basketball” is the very best candidate for a replacement venue this season. No gym (other than Dayton’s) has hosted more NCAA Tournaments than the Palestra’s 14. But it’s been two generations since the historic hoop house had hosting honors. The last time the Palestra was part of the tournament was in 1984, when it hosted three play-in games for teams vying for 11 and 12 seeds. It hasn’t been part of the NCAA Tournament with full-site duties since ’78.
Now’s the perfect — and probably only — time to change that.
So why not take the opportunity to put the NCAA Tournament in such a historic venue? Philadelphia is one of the biggest, most passionate and knowledgeable basketball cities in America and this event would immediately sell out. It would create a high demand, and would offer up something of a throwback. The Palestra isn’t going to qualify in normal bid cycles, so if this is a one-time-only scenario, the NCAA should think outside of the box and pay homage to the sport by selecting college basketball’s version of the Vatican.
Think about Philly fans packing the place. It would be a scene, to say the least. Something indelible and unrepeatable anywhere else.
I’ve been told it’s unclear if normal protocol will be in place for Greensboro’s replacement. Normally, venues have to have a minimum capacity of 10,000 people. The Palestra is just shy of 9,000, but it’s possible exceptions will be made with this unique circumstance.
“Anything’s possible,” a source told CBS Sports. “I don’t think any place would not be considered, and I also don’t think they wouldn’t consider a place just because of minimum capacity.”
This whole scenario is without precedent, so the NCAA should be open to approaching this selection process with exemptions on the table.
Because what’s not up for debate is the allure and incomparable environment the Palestra offers. It’s such a cool, old-school spot that Penn State is giving up a home game to play Michigan State at the venue later this year.
There aren’t many common criticisms of the NCAA Tournament, but one of them is how attendance can sometimes plague first-weekend sites. That’s not always true (and it’s why North Carolina has been picked so frequently; that state is obsessed with its basketball), but it is something powers-that-be have noticed. You wouldn’t have that problem in Philly. You’d have a weekend of revival. Meaningful March basketball has been missing from that section of town for far too long.
There aren’t many places that can rival the religion and respect of the Palestra. It can only become a possibility if Philadelphia opts to be romantic and different, to put up a candidate that will undeniably be different than all others.
The logistics of the arena aren’t perfect, but they’re absolutely something that can be overcome. The NCAA is halfway to making the 2017 NCAA Tournament exceptional and distinctive. The move to take games out of Greensboro was the right one. Placing them in the Palestra, which turns 90 years old in 2017, would be the best basketball birthday present. The country loves to argue annually over selections made by the NCAA. This is one that should have near-universal approval.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Here’s a replacement for NCAA tourney games moved out of North Carolina