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Columbus, Ohio State welcome NCAA in hopes of hosting another Women’s Final Four

The Greater Columbus Sports Commission welcomes the NCAA in a site visit, part of the process to secure a spot on the 2027-31 calendar.

Greater Columbus Sports Commission on Twitter @ColumbusSports

Apr. 1, 2018, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Mississippi State Bulldogs sat level at 58-58 with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish inbounded the ball, finding guard Arike Agunbowale who drained a three, sending a sellout crowd to its feet and earning Notre Dame their second National Championship. Now, in 2022, Columbus is trying to earn a second championship of its own, bidding for another spot on the NCAA Final Four calendar.

Tuesday, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, a group responsible for elevating sports in — and attracting sports to — Central Ohio, ended a two-day tour of the city with an NCAA Site Committee. Columbus is one of seven finalist cities working towards earning one of the five available National Championship Final Four tournaments from 2027 to 2031.

“We were very proud of the tournament that was here in 2018,” said Linda Logan, CEO of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “We all know that we can never rest on our laurels. So, as a community, and the team that’s surrounding us today, they really put their arms together to elevate the experience, we’ve been able to showcase a lot of things that are new.”

During the site visit, the commission took the NCAA committee through new spots around the city. New professional soccer stadium Field, the home of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, the new Hilton Tower opening in two weeks, and a trail of other updates highlighted by tour guides with stickers placed around the city; all located at renovations and additions since the last time the city hosted the NCAA.

In 2018, Columbus sold out all three games, rolled out a literal red carpet (for the first time in tournament history), and broke market ratings and social media engagement numbers, helping the continued growth of women’s basketball.

When you look at the growth and trajectory of women’s sports in the last 10-15 years, specifically the women’s basketball championship and our women’s Final Four,” said Lynn Holzman, Vice President for NCAA Women’s Basketball. “We continue to be very very bullish around what’s happening around our championship.”

Part of that bullishness is what the NCAA committee asks of potential hosts. Columbus, and the six other finalists, are all on board with hosting not only the Division I championship but Divisions II and III. In 2016, Indianapolis, Indiana played host to all three NCAA championships, with Dallas, TX following suit in 2023.

If chosen, Columbus could become the third city to host all three. It gives student-athletes from each division the chance at a Division I experience – playing in an arena and all the fanfare that comes along with it.

There is a slight wrinkle in the process. Ohio is hosting another Women’s Final Four, in Cleveland, Ohio in 2024. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, as there’s no known rule within the committee to avoid a certain state due to frequency. However, a six-year gap between the 2018 Columbus edition and Cleveland’s 2024 hosting could mean that Columbus is scheduled to host a final, but not till later in the five-year planning process.

Even so, the tournament bid has something that not a lot of other cities do – the backing of the Ohio State University.

“The Ohio State University (note I used the correct title there) they have a great track record in supporting NCAA championships and obviously have a very successful athletic program,” said Holzman. “With the leadership of its president, Gene Smith its athletic director, they’ve continued to invest and support NCAA championships and also in particular the women’s basketball championship.”

In December 2021, Ohio State, in partnership with Nationwide Arena, hosted the NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship. The Buckeyes were also part of the 2018 basketball finals and have recently hosted bowling and swimming & diving collegiate title events.

In addition to the Buckeyes are the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League. After all, the games would be hosted in the Blue Jackets’ arena, a venue that Nationwide Arena leadership sees as a space for the community to highlight the city. The arena’s going through updates, as evidenced by Tuesday’s media availability with the sound of construction on the suite levels as the tour came to its end.

By the time any games would tip, the arena is likely to have updates that aren’t even planned yet with the first games not happening for at least five years.

It is a long game when bidding on a tournament of this magnitude, but the city could know soon where they stand in the running. Columbus was halfway through the site visit process, with only a few cities remaining for the NCAA selection committee.

Columbus is competing with San Antonio, Dallas, Tampa, Portland, Sacramento, and Indianapolis to host.

In mid-November, the final seven cities descend on Indianapolis, Indiana to make their final presentations. From there, the committee decides the tournament’s fate. It could take days or weeks for a decision to be handed down and longer to become public. Either way, by the end of 2022, Columbus should know where they stand.

If 2018 is any measure of Columbus’ chances of hosting again, they make a compelling argument to run the tournament back in Central Ohio.

“We could not do it without communities, hosts, and places like Columbus that have supported this championship in the past,” said Holzman. “As we look forward to the future, we’re excited about what that holds.”