If you’re like most people, you’ve never wondered why NCAA men’s basketball tournament games are never being played in South Carolina, because why would they be? It’s South Carolina. Nothing ever happens in South Carolina that doesn’t involve Clemson football, Steve Spurrier, or, somehow, still, incredibly, after all this time, you’re for real? In 2016? the Confederate flag.
About that. Palmetto State residents haven’t seen March Madness anywhere but their TVs since 2002, but thanks to the recent goober reclassification the Carolinas things may be about to change! Furman University athletics director Mike Buddie and Bon Secours Wellness Arena general manager Beth Paul headed a group that recently met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis to initiate a bidding process which could bring the tourney to Greenville, and timing may be perfect.
That’s because South Carolina regained its eligibility to host NCAA championship events last summer when governor Nikki Haley ordered the flag lowered for good, shortly before North Carolina may have lost them when its legislature went full Cletus and passed HB2. South Carolina has long been worse than its bigger, more populous neighbor to the north in virtually every way outside reactionary politics, but no more. North Carolina recently saw the Palmetto state’s proud worship of a symbol of slavery and raised it a cruel, pathetic social power grab by terrified backwoods “Christians” who mobilized a takeover of the Tar Heel legislature in 2010 and haven’t looked forward since.
The sweeping legalization of discrimination against the LGBT community, with a little kick to the teeth of poor people thrown in for the heck of it, drew immediate scorn from humans who accept that the earth revolves around the sun (or at least recoil in horror at the threat of a negative effect on the bottom line), and in a move widely seen as a response to HB2 the NCAA Board of Governors adopted a new requirement for sites bidding on NCAA events mandating representatives must demonstrate an “environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.” That doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for hauling people off to jail mid-stream if they pee in the wrong place and puts in serious jeopardy men’s basketball tournament regionals slated for Greensboro in 2017 and Charlotte in 2018.
Openly embracing an emblem of racism and armed insurrection against your government isn’t the only reason South Carolina has been an exceedingly rare stop for March Madness. Before 2002, the only other time the tournament made a visit was 1970 in Columbia, largely because S.C. is lacking in actual cities and big-boy facilities. Greenville, however, has what it takes to get in the game.
With only 61,000 people, the city is just South Carolina’s sixth-largest, but the Greenville-Spartanburg metro area is the biggest in the state with more than 874,000 residents. More importantly, Greenville has something unmatched: Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Known as the Bi-Lo Center when it hosted in 2002, “The Well” seats 15,000 and sits right downtown. Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena has a larger capacity (18,000), but its location on campus as the University of South Carolina’s home court instead of a neutral location means it almost certainly would never be selected to host.
The result is just about all that’s missing for Greenville is for the NCAA show the same moral courage against HB2 as it does if an AAU coach gives a kid $15 to buy a burger.