Since the SEC decided several days ago to seek a regular site for its men’s basketball tournament, speculation at the league’s spring meetings has centered around Nashville, Tenn., as the leading candidate.
Georgia coach Mark Fox is speaking up for another site.
“I think Atlanta should have it some also,” Fox said. “Nashville is great, but I’m trying to defend our city and our state and our economy.”
The tournament was held in Atlanta eight times in 11 seasons from 1998 through 2008. But in the 11 seasons from 2009 through 2019, it appears Atlanta will host the tournament only twice (2011 and 2014).
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said the Georgia Dome lost its hold on the tournament when the SEC sought a smaller venue.
“There was an effort made … to create a tough ticket. And the Dome didn’t present that,” McGarity said.
The SEC seems unlikely to reverse course now and choose a building as large as the Dome — or the proposed new Falcons stadium — as the tournament’s regular long-term home.
“Many of our fans have asked us to play in basketball arenas as often as we can,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. “That has nothing to do with the quality of the Dome. We have never worked with a better, more organized, more cooperative group than the folks who run the Dome. Our experience in Atlanta has been nothing but positive.”
The ACC’s desire for a basketball-sized venue caused that league to shift its tournament from the Georgia Dome to Philips Arena in 2012, but the SEC has never played its tournament at Philips.
Nashville’s 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena hosted the SEC tournament twice in the past four years and already has commitments to host it in 2015, 2016 and 2019. That frequency led to the speculation that the tournament will settle in Nashville after the SEC athletic directors voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize the conference to seek a “primary site” for the event.
Atlanta isn’t conceding, though.
“We believe that Atlanta would continue to be a terrific host,” Atlanta Sports Council executive director Dan Corso said. “Our region has a tremendous history for 20-plus years in hosting SEC events and has collectively proven time and again that Atlanta can deliver a first-class experience.”
Slive said the athletic directors’ vote was based on the league’s experience with regular sites for its football championship game and baseball tournament.
“We’ve been so successful in Atlanta with the football game and so successful in Hoover (Alabama) with the baseball tournament that I think our athletic directors finally concluded that model probably is the most sensible for us in basketball as well,” Slive said.
Slive referred to Atlanta and Hoover as “permanent sites” of the football and baseball events, but chose a different term — “primary site” — for what the league seeks in basketball. Asked about the distinction, Slive said: “First of all, we have some ongoing discussions with other folks that we want to take care of” — a reference to bids already received for the 2017 and 2018 basketball tournaments.
Atlanta submitted bids for those years — the first in the Georgia Dome and the second in the proposed Falcons stadium if it is built as planned. The ’17 and ’18 tournaments haven’t been awarded but appear headed for St. Louis (Scottrade Center) and Tampa, Fla., (Tampa Bay Times Forum), respectively. Atlanta could get the 2020 tournament before the “primary site” takes over, but hasn’t been asked to submit a bid for that year.
Slive wouldn’t comment on specific cities’ chances to become the primary site. “Before we award anybody anything, they’re going to have to sit down and have a negotiation with us,” he said. “I’m not going to give it away here.”
The SEC also hasn’t said what its procedure will be for making a decision. “We’ll have to sit down as a staff and figure out how we process it,” Slive said.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said he’s fine with a steady site, adding that the league is trying to be “fan friendly.” But he also noted an advantage of playing the tournament in a domed (or retractable-roof) stadium: It can help prepare a team for a Final Four or NCAA regional in such facilities.
“We don’t get a chance to play in those venues very much,” Donovan said. “I’m not opposed to going to an Atlanta.”
Fox said his support for Atlanta isn’t about home-court advantage.
“Nobody gets a home court out of the deal. Vandy doesn’t in Nashville; we don’t in Atlanta,” Fox said. “I just think (of) our state and our economy. But we don’t move the football championship game around, so there’s the flip side of that argument, which I understand.”