NCAA Women’s Final Four: The stage is set for Nashville
The women’s basketball world will turn its eyes upon Nashville in April 2014 for its premiere event of the year, the NCAA Women’s Final Four. As a region that has a long-standing legacy of enthusiastic support of women’s basketball at all levels, Music City was selected back in November 2008 as the Women’s Final Four destination, with the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and Nashville Sports Council serving as co-hosts. Preparations have been in the works ever since for Nashville to host the showcase event of the women’s basketball year. Now that the event is only a few months away, the city and organizing committee are ready to take the stage and put on a first-class event.
While basketball fans already know that the Women’s Final Four coming to Nashville means that a new national champion will be crowned in Bridgestone Arena, they may be surprised at everything else that also will be coming to town as part of the Women’s Final Four festivities. Even more so, they may be surprised at just what it will all mean to the city.
The NCAA boasts the Final Four weekend as “More Than Just Three Games.” Throughout the week of the Championship, a number of events will be happening in conjunction with the games, all of which are projected to generate more than $20 million in economic impact for Nashville and leave a lasting legacy for years to come.
“We want this to be the best Women’s Final Four ever, and there is a strong commitment from the organizing committee to do just that,” said OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche, who is heading up the Nashville Local Organizing Committee (NLOC).
Aside from the games that make up the Final Four, the annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Convention with its 2,000 coaches and 3,000 attendees will be occupying the new Music City Center during the Final Four and will bring coaches from all three NCAA divisions together to openly discuss how to continue growing the women’s game.
Fans of the Final Four teams will also descend on the city, and, while here, they will be greeted with a “Tourney Town” setup that, in true Nashville fashion, will feature concerts from national recording artists, pep rallies, youth clinics, fan contests and giveaways. There will also be a “4Kay Run” held in honor of the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, with proceeds benefiting cancer research through the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
Additionally, before the college stars take the court, the future stars of the game will be on display as well. The WBCA High School All-America Game will be played at Bridgestone Arena the day before the Final Four begins, showcasing the top high school basketball players in the country. A rare chance to see these players before they achieve college success, this game will be free and open to the public.
Outside of the games themselves, the largest aspect of the Final Four weekend will be the “legacy” programs, designed to make a beneficial and long-lasting impact on Nashville’s youth.
“Our legacy campaign is much larger than what you have seen in other host cities,” commented DeBauche. “Our commitment is two-fold for young people. For the young student-athletes participating, we want this to be a phenomenal event they remember for the rest of their lives. For the young people in our community, we want to leave a lasting legacy.”
While most host cities in the past have embarked on one or two legacy programs, the OVC and Nashville Sports Council will be tackling five legacy programs. Each will have the goal of showing young people ways to get involved in the many different aspects of the game, but they all will aim to help young people improve themselves personally in the process.
There will be a “Champions for Women” program that will pair area students with local female business leaders who will mentor them and help train them in leadership skills. The program will culminate with a luncheon where participants and their mentors will hear from prominent speakers and meet with local leaders.
The “Middle School Madness” project will promote the arts and methods to help promote arts in local schools, while the Adventure Science Center will be leading an educational program titled “Science of Swoosh,” where the science of the basketball shot and other aspects of the game will be explored.
A “College Futures Forum” will take place to educate students and their parents about the importance of college, how to get prepared for higher education and what steps to take if they wish to become student-athletes like the ones competing in the Women’s Final Four.
Finally, there will also be a legacy project titled “Media & Women.” It will discuss the portrayal of women in sports and will also discuss multiple methods of getting more coverage for women’s sports, including print, online, radio and television aspects. In addition, there will also be a student journalism program that will allow student reporters to cover the Final Four.
The Final Four coming to Nashville isn’t just a boost for the images of the city, the Nashville Sports Council, and the OVC – many of the local colleges in the Nashville area will be on display as well. Our colleges and universities will be playing host to events and youth clinics on their campuses, sponsoring events around town or simply lending their knowledgeable staff for the operation of the tournament.
While speaking about the benefits of the Women’s Final Four coming to Nashville and the involvement of the area colleges and universities, Tennessee State University’s Athletic Director Teresa Phillips said, “We are all going to be sponsoring some type of event that will give our universities a little juice to build up what we do as an institution and as a city. It is a major event, and everyone will have an opportunity to benefit from it.”
Also on display during the Final Four will be Nashville’s biggest asset – its people. In order to pull off an event of this magnitude and achieve the NLOC’s goal of making it the best Women’s Final Four ever, it will require over a thousand volunteers, according to DeBauche. Organized by the Nashville Sports Council, volunteers will have the opportunity to work in a variety of capacities. Some will have a chance to work closely with the teams and operation of the games, while others will get to interact with visiting fans by helping with Tourney Town, the legacy campaigns and a variety of other assignments.
At all NCAA championships, the NCAA desires to keep a focus on the student-athletes and ensure that the event reflects the value of its member institutions. That is why a conference or school is always included as a host or co-host for each NCAA championship event. The fact that Nashville has the OVC headquarted so closely in neighboring Brentwood and a number of member institutions in the region that can work in conjunction with the Nashville Sports Council was also a part of the draw for the NCAA to select Nashville as a destination.
It also didn’t hurt that the staffs of the OVC and Nashville Sports Council have had a lot of recent experience hosting successful events of similar stature. Since 2012, the two staffs combined have hosted the NCAA Men’s Second and Third Round games, the Southeastern Conference men’s and women’s tournament and the OVC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Nashville. Additionally, representatives from both staffs spent time at last year’s Women’s Final Four in New Orleans, mirroring its staff to get a sense of how others have run the tournament.
“Being involved with those events gives you a sense of confidence that you can host an event like the Women’s Final Four,” said DeBauche. “In a way, they serve as great dress rehearsals, showing you the things you do well in addition to the things you need to improve on.”
She added that, “We will do an outstanding job hosting and managing the Final Four events, I feel certain. It is what we do and we have experience, both the OVC and Nashville Sports Council, running events of this magnitude.”
Being a co-host of the Women’s Final Four also has additional benefits for the OVC beyond the games. For the conference that is in its 66th year and has been headquartered in Brentwood for over 30 years, it can be overshadowed in the Nashville market by the prominence of pro sports franchises and SEC schools in the area. As co-host of the Women’s Final Four, though, it has lifted the OVC up to the national stage and put it on a platform in the city to become even more involved in the community.
DeBauche commented that, “For the OVC, it has been really important but in a way most probably wouldn’t expect. [Co-hosting] has allowed us to interact and have relationships within the city that we may not have had as strongly before. Giving back to the community and being a community player has been very important to us. It also gives our conference a sense of pride to be involved of something of this magnitude.”
She added that, “there is a branding aspect to [co-hosting], but that’s not why you do it. You really do this for the relationships and to be a part of something bigger that is positive. The fact it allows us to showcase our wonderful city in the process is just a fantastic bonus.”
Originally published in Sports & Entertainment Nashville, November 2013.