Columbia hosting men's March Madness for first time in nearly 50 years

Columbia hosting men's March Madness for first time in nearly 50 years

The South Carolina men's and women's basketball teams just wrapped up outstanding seasons with the men making their first ever Final Four appearance and the women winning their first ever national championship.

That positive exposure in March Madness brought a lot of good attention to Columbia and the state of South Carolina. 

On Tuesday, the good news kept on coming. 

The NCAA announced host sites for the men's and women's basketball postseason tournaments, and South Carolina was well-represented. Columbia, Colonial Life Arena and the University of South Carolina will be one of the hosts for the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament in 2019. It's the first time since 1970 that Columbia has hosted the NCAA Tournament on the men's side. 

Photo gallery (photos by Allen Sharpe) 

In addition, Greenville was named one of the four regional sites for the 2020 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and Greenville also received a host bid for the 2022 Men's First and Second Rounds. 

"What an exciting day in Columbia, South Carolina," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. "We are the new Southern hotspot, and also the home of college basketball. What a way to cap off what was a fantastic year."

University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, Athletics Director Ray Tanner, men's basketball head coach Frank Martin and Columbia Regional Sports Council Executive Director Scott Powers joined Benjamin at a press conference on Tuesday.

The representatives from the university were ecstatic that the city was selected as a host for 2019 after an outstanding basketball season for both programs at the school. 

"I think it's worth noting that when those eight teams come in here to play, they'll be playing under two banners that say 'Final Four,' and they'll be playing under one banner that says 'national champions,'" Tanner noted. "So we're excited to be able to host this event."

For the past two seasons, the South Carolina women's team has hosted the first and second rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament. If they are eligible to do that again in 2019, the Gamecocks won't be able to play at Colonial Life Arena, but Tanner said the university will apply for a waiver that allows the women to still host within a 50 mile radius. 

Colonial Life Arena is one of eight host sites for the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament First and Second Rounds. The games will be held on March 22 and 24 of that year, and it's a chance for the city to welcome in thousands of basketball fans from around the country.

"Here's the beautiful part, something I learned five years ago," Martin said. "When you're not from here, you only know what you hear. When people from around the country actually come in here and see what an unbelievable city (and) what beautiful people we have in this community and this beautiful campus that we get to show off to everyone, it's a win-win for everyone."

The announcement is not only good for the university, it's excellent news for businesses in and around the city. Powers estimated that the event will bring in more than $10 million of revenue to Columbia. 

With the women's basketball team leading the country in attendance for three consecutive years and the men's team ranking in the top 15 in attendance, it's no secret that there are plenty of basketball fans in the community. 

Now even more fans from all around the country will figure out what a great city Columbia is and what a great university USC is. 

"We used to get the, 'Why would anyone come to Columbia?' question," Powers said. "I don't think anyone is asking that question anymore. I think we've more than proven ourselves to be fantastic hosts."

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**