Greenville, South Carolina, will host first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March, seizing the games away from Greensboro, North Carolina, as the state of South Carolina benefited from a ban of championship events from the state of North Carolina.
The NCAA announced the move Friday, giving South Carolina its first championship men’s basketball event since 2002. The move comes a year after the Confederate flag was removed from the state capitol in Columbia. The flag was the reason the NCAA previously wouldn’t place official championship events in the state.
Furman University and the Southern Conference will host the event on March 17 and 19, 2017.
“What a great opportunity for Furman, the Southern Conference and the city of Greenville,” Furman athletic director Mike Buddie told ESPN. “Our ultimate goal is to get future bids for 2019 and beyond and be in the regular rotation.”
The NCAA said the tournament needed a site in the mid-Atlantic region with other first- and second-round sites to be hosted by Orlando, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Tulsa, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
“Geography played a huge role in this decision,” the NCAA’s Dan Gavitt told ESPN. “Greenville is only 190 miles from Greensboro. All of the other options didn’t offer that geographic balance. That had a significant role.”
The SEC women’s tournament will be held in Greenville earlier in March. Clemson played its 2015 season in Greenville while Littlejohn Coliseum was undergoing a rehab project.
Gavitt said as soon as the Confederate flag came down in the summer of 2015, Columbia and Greenville expressed an interest in bidding. Both bid for 2019-22 sites and will be viable options, Gavitt said.
Buddie said the 14,000-seat Bon Secours Wellness Arena should be a fan-friendly experience, with seven hotels within a mile of the facility.
A potential No. 1 or 2 seed Duke likely would have been in Greensboro, but now it could easily be slotted for nearby Greenville. The same could be true for other regional teams like Kentucky, North Carolina or Virginia, assuming they are in position to be top seeds as well.
“We don’t think there will be any challenge selling out,” Buddie said. “We’re smack in the middle of ACC and SEC country.”
The NCAA, in a release, said fans who bought tickets for Greensboro will have the first option of buying tickets for Greenville.
This is only the third time the NCAA has chosen South Carolina to host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The first was in 1970 in Columbia, and the last time was 2002 — in Greenville.
Other championships announced Friday that were originally slated for North Carolina were:
* Division I women’s soccer college cup, Dec. 2 and 4 in San Jose, California.
* Division III men’s and women’s soccer championship, Dec. 2 and 3 in Salem, Virginia.
* Division I women’s golf championship, May 8-10 in Athens, Georgia.
* Division III men’s and women’s tennis championships, May 22-27 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
* Division I women’s lacrosse championship, May 26 and 28 in Boston.
* Division II baseball championship, May 27-June 3 in Grand Prairie, Texas.