ASHEVILLE, N.C. (soconsports.com)– The Southern Conference announced Wednesday it has reached an agreement with representatives from Asheville, N.C., to host the league's men's and women's basketball tournament through the league's centennial celebration in 2021. The four-year extension to the existing deal, which was set to expire in 2017, includes both the men's and women's basketball tournaments as well as the league's wrestling championship, which moved to Asheville this past season.
“The Asheville community has truly taken ownership of the championships and made us feel welcome over the past four years,” said John Iamarino, Commissioner of the Southern Conference. “It will be fitting to celebrate our 100th basketball tournament in a city that has been such a wonderful site for us.”
As part of the extension, both parties agreed to move the women's basketball quarterfinals to the U.S. Cellular Center effective in 2016. Those games have been played at UNC Asheville's Kimmel Arena the past four years. As a result of the move downtown, the entire women's basketball tournament will now be available on ESPN3. The men's tournament will see the opening round, quarterfinals and semifinals on ESPN3 with the title game to be broadcast on either ESPN or ESPN2.
In addition to the championship events, a number of ancillary events have been built into the weekend. Prior to Saturday's basketball games and wrestling championship, a 5k run has been held in addition to the Downtown Dribble, which features some 500 local children dribbling basketballs through downtown Asheville before finishing at the U.S. Cellular Center. The Education Day promotion has brought thousands of grammar school children to watch a women's game during the tournament.
“The Asheville community takes great pride in hosting both the basketball and wrestling championships, and we're excited to continue this partnership,” said Ben VanCamp, Executive Director of the Asheville-Buncombe Regional Sports Commission. “It is an honor for the conference to select Asheville as the site for its future centennial celebration.”
The event carries an estimated financial impact of $4 million annually in the local community. The nation's longest-running conference tournament, the SoCon basketball tournament was held in Asheville from 1984-95 and returned in 2012. In all, 13 different cities have hosted the men's basketball tournament dating back to the first one in 1921.