BILLINGS – A national college basketball tournament appears bound for Billings.
All signs point to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics choosing Billings as the new two-year host of the NAIA Women’s National Basketball tournament, according to sources familiar with the joint Visit Billings and Rocky Mountain College bid.
A press conference with NAIA representatives has been set for Wednesday at Rimrock Auto Arena.
The NAIA has been looking for a new site host since their previous host, Kansas City, informed them after March’s tournament that they would not be submitting a bid for the future. The new site would begin hosting duties with the 2017 tournament, slated for mid-March.
Representatives of the collegiate governing body toured Billings August 16-17, meeting Metrapark officials as well as hotel and restaurant owners, and seemed to like what they saw.
“It fits the mold of what we look for a lot with NAIA cities,” said Alan Grosbach, the NAIA’s manager of communications.
The tournament is substantial – a week-long event featuring 32 teams from across the country. That means 31 games would be played at Rimrock Auto Arena, which was the Big Sky Conference’s issue when evaluating Metrapark in March of 2015.
“We looked at the basketball floor, and we determined we needed a better floor,” Metrapark sales director Ray Massie said. “The commissioners stepped up, paid the money and bought the brand new floor we have had since late last year.”
NAIA reps liked everything about the arena.
“It’s a great facility, a great arena,” said Jamie Adams, the NAIA’s associate director of championship events. “Not only that court, but also the extra amenities – making sure we have enough locker rooms for all of our teams, making sure the athletes are going to have a good experience.”
But Adams stresses basketball is just one part of the bidding process.
“You can only spend so much time in an arena, so we’re looking for an experience. We’re looking for a community. Our events that do the best really do have that buy-in from the community. And year after year, people remember them, people remember the teams who come back, and our student athletes remember the cities, remember the sites and the people when they come back the next year.”
She also stressed that this isn’t necessarily a temporary move.
“We’re looking for a home for NAIA women’s basketball, and we hope that we find that in this bid cycle. The way we write our contracts are usually two years to start with, and then if it’s a great partnership, if it’s a great opportunity for both sides, we want to look at continuing that partnership.”
Rocky Mountain College, who worked with Visit Billings to submit the bid, says the economic reward outweighs the risk.
“It’s a very expensive venture, but it’s also a venture that can make money for this community,” said athletic director Bruce Parker. “They’re saying between $9.5-10 million for the economy.”
There’s a direct benefit for the Bears as well.
“We do get an automatic berth for Rocky to go to the national tournament,” admitted Parker. “So right now, if we can get Rocky into this and we’re gonna host this, then Wes Keller will be at national tournament in his 3rd season, so that’s pretty exciting to get our team in.”