Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia will host NCAA men's basketball games for the first time in decades, college sport's governing body announced Tuesday.
The NCAA says Columbia will get to hold first and second round games on March 22 and 24 of 2019. The last time USC was the site of men's tournament games was way back in 1970.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, USC President Harris Pastides, USC Athletics Director Ray Tanner, and other civic leaders held a news conference at 4 PM Tuesday to speak further on the subject.
According to Scott Powers, the executive director of Columbia Regional Sports Council, they're expecting about $10.5 million in economic impact over that weekend. Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin said this is great news for the capital city.
"It's exciting as we continue to build a great city here. These are exciting opportunities to use the NCAA and March Madness as a stage to show off Columbia. It's a unique and unparalleled opportunity," said mayor Benjamin.
The games will be played at the Colonial Life Arena.
The city didn't get selected as a site for the rest of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Then in the early 2000s, the NCAA began honoring the NAACP's boycott of the state over the continued flying of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol. That prevented any city in the state from being considered for a post-season tournaments.
The only exceptions were for teams that earned the right to play games on their home field or courts, such as when the USC baseball team played in the early rounds of the postseason, or when the women's basketball team earned a high-enough seed.
But after the state legislature voted to remove the flag in 2015 following the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the NCAA lifted their sanctions.
Greenville was allowed to host the SEC Women's Basketball tournament this year, and due to North Carolina's decision to pass HB2, the NCAA took the men's tournament from that state and put it in Greenville this year as well.
But this will be the first time Columbia's had a chance to host. It was long a goal of the city, and part of the reason why the state of the art Colonial Life Arena was built back in 2002.
It continues a "basketball renaissance" for Columbia, which saw the women's basketball team win its first national championship and the men make the Final Four for the first time ever.