By Dave Fairbank, firstname.lastname@example.org | 757-247-4637
6:09 PM EST, December 12, 2012
Citing its changing membership and the opportunity to reach new venues, the Colonial Athletic Association announced Wednesday that its men's basketball tournament would move to Baltimore from 2014-16.
The tournament will be played at 1st Mariner Arena, formerly known as the Baltimore Arena, in downtown, after a 24-year run at the Richmond Coliseum.
"The CAA has changed, with conference realignment," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said. "Baltimore, which is a renowned destination spot, we think it's going to be a real exciting place for our fans."
Yeager said that Baltimore was among three finalists out of 30 groups that submitted proposals to host the tournament.
"Maryland and the Baltimore community presented a great package," Yeager said at Wednesday's announcement in Baltimore. "The excitement and professionalism that Baltimore brought to the A.D.'s, and ultimately the presidents who approved their recommendation, was very noticeable and distinguished itself from others."
Baltimore officials anticipated the CAA tournament would have an annual economic impact of approximately $6.5 million and account for 5,500 hotel rooms occupied over the four-day event. It also would generate $500,000 in local tax revenue.
The CAA has held the past 23 men's tournaments at the Richmond Coliseum, dating back to 1990. Though the Richmond Coliseum was technically a neutral site, it was a de facto home court for VCU — a sore spot for years among some conference members.
Tournament attendance increased over the past decade in Richmond, as VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason routinely were among the conference's best teams. The tournament has averaged 42,000 in total attendance over the past five years.
Ten times since 2000, at least one of those three teams made the traditional Monday night tournament final, which boosted ticket sales. Five times, two of the three faced each other for the title.
But VCU departed for the Atlantic 10 in the spring and ODU is leaving for Conference USA after this season. College of Charleston recently approved an invitation to join the CAA for the 2013-14 school year.
Yeager acknowledged that Baltimore is more centrally located for CAA basketball schools, which now stretch from Boston to Charleston, S.C. He said that 370,000 alumni of conference schools live within 100 miles of Baltimore.
"It's a little bit different for us, because we were only an hour away," William and Mary athletic director Terry Driscoll said, "but the biggest concentration of our alumni is in the Washington D.C. area. I can't say that Baltimore is any easier for them to get to than Richmond.
"But there are a significant number of alumni in the northeast corridor who will find it more convenient to come to Baltimore. They can come down from New York for a day, or longer if we're playing well."
Driscoll and Yeager also mentioned the Baltimore arena's proximity to the Inner Harbor and many downtown restaurants and attractions.
"This is a unique event," Yeager said. "When you get to March Madness, it's something different. We hope that resonates with fans here. But we've got to work to do, obviously, on all our campuses.
"I think the attractiveness of Baltimore as a destination and as a tournament host is going to go a long way toward creating renewed excitement and people wanting to attend."