SIAC basketball tournament officials consider Savannah for long-term deal

Updated March 2, 2023 at 4:52 p.m.

Savannah’s hospitality and infrastructure as a host city deservedly earn rave reviews. But will Savannahians support the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s basketball tournament?

The league’s tournament has been in town since Feb. 25. The atmosphere has been festive but the crowds sparse – kind of like walking down River Street five days before St. Patrick’s Day.

But for the SIAC, the weekend is coming. Monday-through-Friday workers are off. Students are closing their books. The home teams from Savannah State University will be in action Thursday. Win, and the men’s and women’s teams advance to Friday’s semifinals. Saturday, championships will be decided. 

ESPN cameras will be rolling for their replay of the title games on Sunday. Will anyone be in the stands, and how has Savannah stacked up as a host to the league’s 15 schools?

“We’ve had very positive feedback,” SIAC commissioner Dr. Anthony Holloman said. “Games have been competitive and we’re  expecting great crowds on Friday and Saturday.”

Although he’s been commissioner for only six months, Holloman has a bead on the pulse of conference athletics. He was an athletic director at Fort Valley State University and was the chairman of the SIAC Athletic Directors Council  in 2021-22.

The last three years, the league basketball tournament was in Rock Hill, S.C., but the contract expired and Holloman wanted to look for a new venue.Savannah State’s willingness to host the tournament this season will bridge the event to its eventual long-term landing spot. And who knows? Savannah might just position itself to get that long-term deal.

“When I looked at locations on campuses, Savannah State was second to none,” Holloman said. “SSU president Kimberly Ballard-Washington and staff helped make this happen in short order. They have a great facility. (Savannah) is clearly a destination city and we think that will help drive interest in the tournament.”

But, nothing is a slam dunk.

“This was a deal to preserve the flexibility to make the best deal moving forward. … Clearly, we’ll be considering Savannah as a permanent home for the tournament, but we’ll look at all (interested) locations,” he continued. 

Holloman said Memphis, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Macon have expressed desire to host the tournament. But the SIAC is dancing with Savannah right now. TIAA, Coca-Cola, Cricket Wireless and Home Depot are among the numerous sponsors onboard. And Savannah has numerous advantages.

“One thing that I had a perspective on when I was an athletic director in the conference, I knew the desire of the institutions in our league was to move (the basketball tournament) to a more central location,” Holloman said.

Savannah checks that box. Eight schools are within a four-hour drive.

“When you look at a basketball tournament, you not only want it to be a sporting event, but you want it to be an EVENT,” Holloman said. “You want people to come out even if they don’t have any affiliation with the league or the teams in the league because this is the place to be.”

Savannah checks that box too. St. Patrick’s day proves you don’t have to be Irish to wear green.

Holloman said he hopes to make his decision within 60 days.

“Going forward, I’ll be looking for a financial commitment from the municipality,” he said. “We’ll be a real boon wherever we go. We have 15 institutions, 29 teams – that’s a large league. We’ll drive revenue for (the new host) wherever we go.”

Published March 2, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

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