The following article appears in the Winter 2019 edition of NABC Time-Out Magazine. To view the entire Winter 2019 issue, click here.
Not long after Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball at a YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., in 1891, one of his proteges, Reverend Nicholas McKay, introduced the game at a YMCA in Crawfordsville, Ind.
While Springfield rightfully holds the title of the “Birthplace of Basketball”, it was The Hoosier State that quickly adopted, nurtured and grew the game with unbridled passion.
Indiana’s love affair with basketball, many call it Hoosier Hysteria, hasn’t waned in more than 125 years.
This year, Indiana basketball fans will have a pair of NCAA national championship tournaments. The NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals and championship are scheduled for March 15-16 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.
A short time later, March 27-30, the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship Elite Eight will be played at the Ford Center in Evansville.
Can it get any better for Indiana basketball fans? Actually, it will.
The NCAA, with headquarters in Indianapolis, has awarded Fort Wayne and Evansville four consecutive years to hold the championships meaning that in 2021, with the NCAA Division I Men’s Final Four set for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, all three championships will be played in Indiana.
Adding another unique layer to this equation, the games in Fort Wayne and Indy will be played in the Eastern time zone while the Division II event in Evansville will be played in the Central time zone.
2019 NCAA Division III Championship
Allen County War Memorial Coliseum - Fort Wayne, IN
“As a committee, we think about the national championships and what the student-athlete experience will be,” said Sam Atkinson, chair of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Committee and associate director of athletics for communications at Gallaudet University. “The championship had a great 23-year run in Salem, Va., and while it’s sad to leave, we are very excited about Fort Wayne, a great city in a great basketball state.”
“It was the responsibility of the committee to make sure wherever the tournament went was very attractive and had a wow factor for the student athletes. Fort Wayne offers those amenities and a state-of-the-art facility and flexibility with the seating arrangements for different size crowds,” Atkinson said. “The people there are super motivated an excited to host and doing everything they can to make sure things are done just right.”
Fort Wayne began looking at bidding in 2014-15 as he community sought to expand and grow its sports tourism business to take advantage of its outstanding sports facilities.
“We had a Notre Dame women’s basketball game at the Coliseum and at the end of the game, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw praised the facility and said maybe the city should pursue hosting a women’s regional, which will happen in 2020,” said Nathan Dennison, vice president of sales at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. “In developing an excellent partnership with Manchester University, we were awarded the Division III wrestling regional in 2017 and now received the bid for the men’s basketball championship.
“This is a win/win for everyone, putting Fort Wayne on the map for Division III. We hope the coaches and athletes will find a very welcoming and dynamic atmosphere.”
In addition to the NCAA games, the NABC will also hold its annual Division III College All-Star game during the championship, featuring the most outstanding senior players in Division III.
“We are going to a terrific venue in the heartland of our country and a hotbed for basketball, “said NABC president Charlie Brock of Springfield College. “We are proud to continue providing an opportunity for seniors to be able to play in a championship atmosphere at the all-star game and Fort Wayne has been very welcoming, organized and invigorated about the championship.”
2019 NCAA Division II Elite Eight
Ford Center - Evansville, IN
It will be a record 24th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for Evansville, which began in 1957 when the NCAA had only two divisions, a University Division and a College Division. Evansville University was the host institution for the first 20 seasons and transitioned to NCAA Division I in 1977 with the championship moving to Springfield, Mass.
The 2019 event will be hosted for the fourth time by the University of Southern Indiana.
“The Evansville Sports Corporation has been passionate about bringing events here with a top facility in the Ford Center and a passionate fan base,” said Jon Mark Hall, the director of athletics at USI and also a member of the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Committee. “The NCAA went for a four-year bid process and USI was awarded with the bid for four years. We’re very excited and there is an advantage to hosting multiple years in a row. Someone knows if they watched one, they would want to come back again.”
“The wonderful thing about basketball interest in Indiana is that it’s not just about Division I basketball but at all levels – a passion that folks who live and grew up here have but maybe a little hard to explain,” Hall said. “People gravitate to this championship because they love basketball.”
Jeff Wilson, former chair of the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Committee and the head coach at East Stroudsburg University would like to see the NCAA have a joint championship in the same city as took place in Atlanta in 2013 and sees Indiana as a possibility.
“Having all three championship games in one city was terrific for student-athletes, fans, coaches, everyone,” Wilson said. “We’re hopeful that it could happen in Indiana as well with all of the NCAA men’s basketball there in 2021.”
The NABC will resume its NABC Division II College All-Star game in Evansville in 2019. The annual game could not be scheduled during the Elite Eight a year ago in Sioux Falls as the NCAA held both the Division II men’s and women’s championships at the same site.
In Evansville, 20 Division II senior student-athletes will be selected to play in the all-star game, which is held on the Friday, an off-day between the semifinals and championship game.
“There is an amazing buzz and excitement for basketball throughout the state and we receive tremendous support from fans and the business community,” said Evansville Sports Corporation Executive Director Eric Marvin. “People in this area are really dedicated to the sport and Indiana overall takes their interest in college basketball to another level – Basketball is King!”