North Carolina’s loss could be Spartanburg County’s gain.
On Monday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced its plan to pull seven championships out of the Tar Heel State in response to the state’s controversial House Bill 2, coined the “bathroom law.”
Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the county is “actively reviewing” open bids for those events.
“The recent developments in North Carolina and the NCAA’s decision to rebid those events have given us pause to see if we have the facilities or schools to partner with to host those events,” Jennings said. “We’re actively reviewing the open bids and will make a decision that benefits the community and the host college.”
The NCAA said the seven events that will be relocated for 2016-17 are:
-Division I women’s soccer championship College Cup, Dec. 2 and 4 in Cary, N.C.
-Division III men’s and women’s soccer championship Dec. 2-3 in Greensboro, N.C.
-Division I men’s basketball tournament first/second rounds March 17 and 19 in Greensboro.
-Division I women’s golf championship regional in May 8-10 in Greenville, N.C.
-Division III men’s and women’s tennis championship May 22-27 in Cary.
-Division I women’s lacrosse championship in May 26 and 28 in Cary.
-Division II baseball championship May 27-June 3 in Cary.
“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a statement. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
Jennings said Spartanburg has already bid, during its normal bidding process, to host the Division I cross country championship at the University of South Carolina Upstate and the Division II softball championship at Converse College.
The county is looking into the open bid for the Division I basketball event, but is even more interested in the Division I lacrosse and soccer championships, Jennings said. But the key, he said, is finding an institution to partner with.
David Montgomery, vice president of sales for VisitGreenvilleSC, said Greenville is pulling together all of its “stakeholders” in hopes of submitting a bid for the Division I men’s basketball tournament. Those entities include Furman University, the Southern Conference and Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
He said the county can build on the bids in has made in the past.
“We want to make sure we do it right,” Montgomery said. “We feel like we’ve got the right infrastructure, expertise and partners. All of our stakeholders, from hotels to schools, the arena and venues, restaurants and activities — we feel like we’ve got an ideal package. The competition is very fierce. But we feel like if we can get our proposal in front of the right people at the right time, we have a very good chance.”
Jennings said the South Carolina Sports Alliance, a collection of tourism agencies across the state, is “aggressively” going after some of the open bids.
For the first time in decades, Jennings said the Palmetto State is able to bid on NCAA events because of the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds in July 2015.
He equated tensions over the flag issue in South Carolina with the HB2 law in its neighbor to the north.
“The bathroom bill is their flag issue,” Jennings said. “This has opened a door for us to take another look at some additional events.”
Sports tourism has had a major impact on Spartanburg in recent years. In 2015, the county netted about $16 million from two non-collegiate softball tournaments and the NFL Carolina Panthers training camp at Wofford College.
This summer, the training camp attracted a record 135,371 visitors, which shattered the previous record of 77,625 fans set in 2015.
The county also hosted the USA Track & Field (USATF) Junior Olympic Region Four Track and Field Championship July 7–10, which brought in thousands of athletes and spectators.
Jennings said the economic impact numbers from this year’s Panthers camp should be finalized in the coming weeks.