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What are the Odds for Key NCAA Women’s Basketball Happening and Staying in Vegas?

17 Apr, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

If the NCAA Women’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games happen in Vegas, will they stay in Vegas? One theory is that it may be the answer to maintaining strong attendance and economic impact in an event that has previously played second-fiddle to the juggernaut that is men’s March Madness.

The idea began, according to AZ Central, when a TV analyst suggested the concept of a “super-regional” tournament location. The basic premise was to have all Sweet 16/Elite Eight games played in Las Vegas in a single-site gathering for the sport.

There is already a precedent for this; the baseball/softball World Series have been held in Omaha and Oklahoma City for years, with great success.

Coaches are already getting behind the concept – particularly those who are tired of playing to partially-empty arenas during crucial match-ups in March.

"I absolutely love the idea," said Turner Thorne, a past president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. "It would be amazing for our game to build equity in Vegas, a place that's a destination, where a lot of people want to go. I've been doing this 30 years in Division I college coaching. We keep moving backwards. We can't play on neutral sites, we're not filling the stands. It's just kind of to me a no-brainer. I really hope we're looking at it because I think it would be unbelievable for our game."

And it was sportscaster Debbie Antonelli, according to USA TODAY, who proposed the reboot for the women’s basketball tournament: “For the last eight years, the college basketball analyst who works both men’s and women’s games has lobbied for the NCAA women’s tournament to scrap its current format of four regional sites and bring all 16 teams together in Vegas for one major showcase event.”

The impetus for the this finally taking place is last year’s Supreme Court’s landmark ruling 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that had limited sports betting to one state, Nevada, for the last 25 years.

The case was expected to dramatically alter the landscape of sports betting, bringing an estimated $150 billion industry above ground. The ruling also allowed each individual state to decide if its residents could bet on sports. And of course, it also opened the door for the NCAA to start holding championships events in Las Vegas. 

Ultimately, it also brought potential for exponentially increased economic impact:

Jim Livengood, who works as a consultant with Las Vegas Events, has had his share of experience with NCAA championship events after almost three decades as a Division I athletic director at Southern Illinois, Washington State, Arizona and UNLV. He’s also a former chaIr of the men’s selection committee. He understands how the NCAA operates, and he’s a believer in Antonelli’s idea. 

“Nothing happens overnight, but this is going to get people thinking in a different way,” Livengood told USA TODAY Sports. “There are a number of things changing within the NCAA. I mean, we have alcohol at NCAA championship events now — who would have thought that would ever happen?” 

Antonelli envisions fans being able to purchase a “Sweet 16 package” that would allow visitors to experience all Vegas has to offer: “So maybe you get tickets to all the games, a trip to the Hoover Dam, a round of golf and a show at Ceasars,” she explained. “Or, you could get a package with tickets to all the games, plus dinner with Aja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces. There are so many possibilities.” 

Vegas, already the site of boxing matches and bullriding, has cemented itself as a destination for basketball by hosting the PAC-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament each March.

One of the drawbacks to the concept, of course, is the fact that there would be fewer sites being awarded March Madness games, and that any teams from outside the Vegas (or Nevada) region would be unable to play at home, should they simultaneously be hosting when they secured a berth to the rounds of 16 or eight.

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