Atlanta named ‘finalist’ for another Final Four

The planned new Atlanta Falcons stadium remains in the running to host college basketball’s Final Four later this decade.

The NCAA on Monday named eight bidders, including Atlanta, as “finalists” to host the men’s event in 2017 through 2020. From those eight, four winning bids will be chosen in November.

Atlanta has a long history of pursuing marquee sporting events, but this is the first bid for an event in the retractable-roof downtown stadium that is slated to break ground in April and open in 2017.

The Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which is the site of this season’s Final Four, and the Minnesota Vikings’ planned new stadium, which is slated to open in 2016, also were among the finalists named by the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee. Other cities still in the running: Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio, St. Louis and Glendale, Ariz.

With the Final Four already booked through 2016, the NCAA last fall began the bid process for 2017-20. The Atlanta bid group, including representatives of the Atlanta Sports Council, the Falcons, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, met with NCAA officials in December.

The NCAA did not say how many bidders were eliminated Monday. More detailed bids are due from the finalists in May.

The Atlanta bid does not seek the 2017 event but asks for 2018, 2019 or 2020 — even though 2018 would put the Final Four in a new stadium faster than normal NCAA policy.

“Two years is the requirement for a venue to be open before it can host a Final Four. However, every situation is unique,” NCAA spokesman David Worlock said by email. “Bidders can request an exception to any part of the bid specifications and we evaluate each proposed exception on a case-by-case basis. We want each bid city to be able to put forward its most competitive and flexible bid.”

Atlanta hosted the men’s Final Four in 1977, 2002, 2007 and 2013. The 1977 event was held in the Omni, which was Philips Arena’s predecessor. The other three were held in the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished when the new stadium is completed.

Sports Council executive director Dan Corso hopes the event’s history here bolsters the chances of bringing it back.

“Having been called home to this prized event on four previous occasions, most recently just nine months ago, has provided our city with incredible opportunities to show off our tremendous southern charm and solid hosting capabilities,” Corso said in a statement.

The NCAA requires Final Four bidders to have a venue that can seat at least 60,000 (the new Falcons stadium is designed to seat 84,000 for a Final Four) and at least 10,000 full-service hotel rooms within “reasonable proximity.”

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president for men’s basketball, praised the quality of the bids to this point and said the NCAA “fully expects(s) the remainder of the bid process to be competitive.”

Also Monday, the NCAA named seven finalists as potential sites of the women’s Final Four in the 2017-2020 bid cycle: Dallas, Houston, Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Columbus, Ohio.