Greenville Mayor Knox White vividly remembered the 2005 Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tourney and the atmosphere in downtown Greenville.
“We had up to 40,000 people here in 2005, and we weren’t even that good then,” White said.
Now, after a 12-year hiatus, the SEC is coming back to Greenville as the 2017 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament will be at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. It marks the first major college sporting event announcement in South Carolina since lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015.
|SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announces that Greenville and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena will host the 2017 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. (Video by Matthew Clark)|
The NCAA had the state under a postseason events ban until the flag was removed.
“I have to applaud the leadership here and around the state for what they did,” Sankey said. “They have opened the doors, and we are glad to be back.”
Another reason for announcing Greenville as the host was proximity. Sankey said the city sits in very close proximity to most schools in the conference with Texas A&M University and Missouri, the newest members of the conference, being the farthest away. But, with Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, along with the University of South Carolina being so close the Greenville, Sankey said it was an easy decision to make.
“We’ve talked a lot about the downtown experience, and this is really that kind of atmosphere here,” Sankey said. “This was an opportunity for the SEC to bring women’s basketball to Greenville, and we wanted to take that opportunity.”
Greenville is one of 14 cities that have hosted the postseason tournament since 1981. The largest attendance was in Nashville, Tenn., where the tournament had close to 50,000 spectators in 2012. Nashville is under contract to host the tournament in 2018, 2022 and 2026. Last year, the tournament was held in Jacksonville, Fla.
Chris Stone, president of VisitGreenvilleSC, said the preliminary estimates of the economic impact of bringing the tournament to Greenville was around $1.8 million. He said that includes factoring in the teams, coaches, trainers, families, friends and fans that will travel to attend the tournament.
“The location in relation to the conference schools should make it very easy for people to get here,” Stone said. “It will be a terrific atmosphere.”
Gov. Nikki Haley said that Greenville was the “perfect place” for something like the SEC women’s basketball tourney and that the state “will roll out the red carpet” for the teams, fans and families that come to Greenville.
“We are going to have a lot of visitors,” Haley said. “They are coming to a city that is kind, accepting, and it is a city that those visitors will want to come back to.”
She also commended state leaders for their decision to remove the Confederate Battle Flag following a shooting that killed nine at the Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney on June 17. It was that decision that helped open the door for the SEC to bring the tournament back to South Carolina. Sankey said it was a matter of days after the flag was removed that conversations started to take place about bringing events like the women’s basketball tournament back to South Carolina.
“This is a big progression for the state of South Carolina,” Haley said. “We aren’t going to take that lightly.”
As for any other collegiate sporting events coming to South Carolina, Haley said the state and city of Greenville will “throw them the best SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament so the SEC will want to come back and other events will want to be here.”
For now, both Stone and Haley were tight lipped about any other potential collegiate sporting events coming to the state.
“We want to take a look at the different events out there and the venues we have to see what matches up,” Stone said. “We want to find those events that bring in a lot of people.
“For now, we just want to get this thing to over 51,000 people.”
Cities that have hosted the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament
- Albany, Ga.: 1987-1992
- Athens, Ga.: 1984, 1986
- Baton Rouge, La.: 1981
- Chattanooga, Tenn.: 1993-1997, 1999-2000
- Columbus, Ga.: 1998
- Duluth, Ga.: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2014
- Greenville, S.C.: 2005, 2017
- Jacksonville, Fla.: 2016
- Knoxville, Tenn.: 1980, 1983
- Lexington, Ky.: 1982
- Oxford, Miss.: 1985
- Memphis, Tenn.: 2001
- Nashville, Tenn.: 2002, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2018, 2022, 2026
- North Little Rock, Ark.: 2003, 2006, 2009, 2015
SOURCE: Southeastern Conference
Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107, or @matthewclark76 on Twitter.