It’s back. Women’s college basketball’s crowning event, the NCAA Women’s Final Four, will return to downtown Minneapolis in 2022.
I was there the last time the weekend event was here in 1995, a homecoming for two local former prep stars (Tracy Henderson, Brandi Decker) who grew up just blocks north from the arena and the kickstart of Connecticut’s dynasty as they won their first national title. God willing, I plan to be there again in four years.
Minneapolis was one of four U.S. cities the NCAA selected as Final Four hosts last month in the latest round of successful bids.
“This never gets old winning a major event,” Sports Minneapolis Executive Director Melvin Tennant proudly declared to an invited gathering of officials, including the Minneapolis mayor, inside the downtown Lynx-Timberwolves arena.
Tennant, as Meet Minneapolis president and CEO, has been actively involved in this city securing and hosting this year’s Super Bowl and WNBA All-Star Game. The City will also host this December the Women’s Volleyball Championship, among many major sporting events.
The 1995 Final Four brought in about $22 million to the area, Tennant reported. “We are not going to speculate what the economic impact is going to be here, but that is the range we are looking at,” he forecasted.
Later, Tennant pointed out to the MSR the perhaps overlooked economic importance of hosting large sporting events in Minneapolis, especially to those who don’t give a lick about sports. “We did highlight the fact that we are a community that has 36,000 individuals that make their living in this [hospitality] industry,” he explained.
“It’s important for us to be able to show that we can extend that radical hospitality [to visitors and others]. We can only do that if we have people that are engaged and want to be involved in this industry and feel that they can make a living in it.”
He was confident that Minneapolis would get the 2022 Final Four, the same confidence he previously displayed when predicting that the city would get the Super Bowl, the W’s annual game, next year’s Men’s Final Four, and other big-ticket platforms.
His role includes recruiting, enhancing and producing not only sporting events in Minneapolis but also such conventions as the National Baptist Convention that brought thousands of Blacks to the city last month.
“We have great history of hosting NCAA events,” Tennant stated matter-of-factly. “The NCAA trusts us more and more. I don’t know if there has been any other city that has had a run of NCAA events [such as] we’ve had in recent years.”
Julie Manning of the University of Minnesota, the host institution, was in the “closer” group of four who made the final presentation to the NCAA selection committee in Tampa in August, a final step in the bid process. She noted that her group held at least three dress rehearsals prior to showtime in Tampa. “We did a great job,” Manning recalled.
She later described for us a room full of crossed fingers as the NCAA’s live PowerPoint showed on the screen, a flashy build-up to the announcement. “We felt pretty good, but you just don’t ever know.”
Manning assured this paper’s principal women’s sports reporter that diversity will be front and foremost in the Women’s Final Four planning. “Absolutely,” she promised. “It is also a platform for us to get better [and] an opportunity here for us to reach out to the Somalian community.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.