Road to the Final Four: Columbus, What a Surprise!
Columbus, Ohio hosted the Women’s NCAA Basketball Final Four in 2018 and the first and second round of the men’s tournament this year at the Nationwide Arena in the burgeoning Arena District near the center of the city. The city is aggressively courting NCAA tournaments as they recently bid on 47 events and won 12 in Divisions I, II, and III.
Most people would likely be surprised to learn that the capital of Ohio has a population of 879,170 and is the 14th largest city in the USA. It is the second most populous Midwest city behind Chicago and has been identified as one of the fastest growing large cities in the country. All that considered, it is amazing that Columbus is the home of only two major sports franchises: NHL Columbus Blue Jackets and MLS Columbus Crew SC.
Of course, Ohio State University brings a lot to the table for local fans, as well as the Columbus Clippers baseball team in the International League plays at Huntington Park. The city is also getting ready to welcome back the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League who will begin play later this season. Columbus had had it shared of defunct franchises from the Columbus Quest of the Continental Basketball Association to the Columbus Quest of the American Basketball League and the most recent Ohio Machine of the Major Lacrosse League.
The Arena District surrounding Nationwide Arena is a great success story of growth in a downtown area. There are many hotels, restaurants, and bars that serve visiting fans and the Central Ohio Transit Authority provides excellent bus service throughout the city. In the area, top-rated things to do and see include Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum, Ohio Theater, Franklin Park Conservatory, Ohio State University campus and Whetstone Park of Roses.
This year, the first and second round teams included (in seeding order) #1 North Carolina, #2 Tennessee, #7 Cincinnati, #8 Utah State, #9 Washington, #10 Iowa, #15 Colgate and #16 Iona. Each team brought its cheerleaders, mascots and pep bands to the tourney, making for a lively environment for each game. Fan participation varied for each game depending on the school size, fan base and distance from Columbus. The NCAA runs the overall event with assistance from OSU.
Now, our key question is the city of Columbus and Nationwide Arena a good place for an NCAA tournament? Easy answer, a resounding yes. Given the quantity and quality of lodging/dining, public transportation, excellent parking, ease of driving to the arena, excellent handicap services/alternatives, efficient security at the entrances, and the very high quality of Nationwide Arena, it is very easy to endorse it as a great tournament site. Given the schedule format, visiting fans were able to attend as many as four games Friday, enjoy the day touring the city on Saturday and then watch two round 2 games Sunday; an excellent long weekend.