Asheville, N.C., wants to keep SoCon basketball tournaments

Asheville, N.C., wants to keep SoCon basketball tournaments

April 3rd, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Southern Conference

The Southern Conference has one year left on its three-year contract to hold the men's and women's basketball tournaments in Asheville, N.C. With or without Appalachian State in the league, Asheville wants the SoCon to keep coming back.

Appalachian State's campus in Boone, N.C., is just 85 miles from Asheville, making it the second-closest to the host city, behind Western Carolina in Cullowhee. Ben VanCamp, executive director of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, said ASU's and Georgia Southern's announced departures to the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2014-15 hasn't changed the commission's desire to retain the tournaments.

"We hate to see [Appalachian State] go because we have a lot of local alumni, but we understand that they have to do what works for the university," VanCamp said Monday. "It really doesn't change anything. Having talked to the conference and hearing some of their internal thoughts on things, we believe the future is bright for the SoCon and we want to be a part of that."

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said during the tournament that year two in Asheville went more smoothly than the first go-round in 2012. This was the first time in five years that the SoCon held the men's and women's tournaments in the same city in back-to-back years.

Iamarino said the league will decide this spring whether to "entertain bids or talk about an extension" with Asheville.

"If that's the desire of the membership, I think we can plant roots here and maybe make it like the ACC does with Greensboro," Iamarino said during the tournament. "It's not there eight years in a row, but it might be there six out of eight years. ... There are advantages to going back to a city: It helps with sponsors; it helps with awareness of the event."

The city, which hosted SoCon tournaments from 1984 to '95, seemed to embrace the event more this year than in 2012. VanCamp said a connection is being made, which will only help the relationship going forward.

"We think we're falling into a good little groove where everyone's getting used to Asheville and locally the tournament is being well supported and celebrated," he said.

According to an Asheville Citizen-Times report, the estimated economic impact of the tournament was expected to be $4 million. Attendance figures provided by VanCamp show that the 2013 women's tournament drew a total of 8,360, topping the 2012 total of 7,816. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's presence in three games this season -- the Lady Mocs won the tournament -- instead of two games in 2012, likely made a big difference in attendance.

The men's tournament drew 25,822, down from 33,304 in 2012 when Western Carolina, located a little more than 50 miles away, reached the championship game.

UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron said last month that she was inclined to support staying in Asheville, which is about 225 miles away from her campus. The tournament's more recent longtime home, Charleston, S.C., is more than 425 miles away.

"It's really good to have something relatively close that our fans can come to," Herron said. "I know Davidson bused in a lot of students for the championship game, and if it wasn't spring break for us, that's something we might could consider doing in the future.

"I think if you know there's a permanent home, you can be planning events like that."

Scrappy extension

UTC has extended reservations for the 2013 Scrappy Awards until Friday. The April 11 event at The Chattanoogan includes 14 awards, among them the school's male and female student-athletes of the year, coach of the year and team of the year for the spring 2012 through winter 2012-13 seasons. The school's athletes voted on the awards.

Tickets cost $50 and are available through GoMocs.com or 266-MOCS (6627). See D2 for a list of nominees.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.