NCAA group visits Atlanta as city seeks to reclaim Final Four

This architectural rendering shows what Mercedes-Benz Stadium would have looked like for the 2020 Final Four, which was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Combined ShapeCaption
This architectural rendering shows what Mercedes-Benz Stadium would have looked like for the 2020 Final Four, which was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An NCAA delegation visited Atlanta on Wednesday and Thursday, part of the process to determine whether – or when – the city will reclaim an event it lost to the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago: college basketball’s Final Four.

ExploreAtlanta will get ‘every consideration’ for another Final Four

The four-member delegation toured Mercedes-Benz Stadium and other facilities and met with the local bid group that is seeking to bring the booked-long-in-advance men’s Final Four here in 2029 or 2031.

“The exciting part is the chance to reset and redo (what was planned for 2020) and then add to that,” said Atlanta Sports Council president Dan Corso, leader of the bid group. “I think in a lot of ways it’s kind of a finish-what-we-started (mindset).”

The 2020 Final Four had been planned for years when, on March 12 that year, the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. Atlanta organizers understood and respected the NCAA’s decision, but were devastated. At the time, the NCAA already had awarded the 2021 through 2026 Final Fours to other cities, forcing Atlanta to wait patiently to get back in a long line for the marquee event.

The NCAA now is considering bids for the 2027 through 2031 Final Fours. Atlanta narrowed its pursuit to 2029 or 2031 because those years fit best on the city’s long-range events and conventions calendar.

Two members of the NCAA men’s basketball committee, Butler University athletics director Barry Collier and University of Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle, joined two NCAA staff members, managing director of men’s basketball championships JoAn Scott and associate managing director Danny Haynor, on the site visit to Atlanta.

Members of the NCAA delegation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that a decision is expected to be made and announced on the 2027-2031 sites by mid-November. They said the full 12-member NCAA men’s basketball committee will vote on the sites after presentations by all candidate cities at a committee meeting Oct. 31.

ExploreNCAA cancels 2020 tournament, Atlanta Final Four

“When we get together in the fall, we will have everybody present their best-and-final (proposal) ... and the committee will have conversations,” Coyle said. “But obviously, Atlanta has a great reputation, and we’re excited to be here.”

While some observers think Atlanta is owed another Final Four as a makeup for the 2020 event, the NCAA has offered no such assurance.

“The NCAA has made it very clear to us this is a competitive process,” Coyle said. “No promises have been made to the city of Atlanta, but everybody is aware of what happened in 2020, obviously. … The NCAA has expectations or (specifications) they look for from host cities, and if cities can match it, that’s how you usually get the connection together where you have the Final Four in those cities.”

Neither Coyle nor Collier was on the NCAA basketball committee in 2020.

The NCAA will make site visits this summer to all cities bidding for 2027-2031 Final Fours. In addition to Atlanta, those cities are known to include Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. Haynor said there are “others in the mix” that haven’t been publicized. Different committee members will visit each city.

The itinerary for the Atlanta site visit included a tour of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, stops at the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park, an overview of major hotels and meetings with the local bid group. The bid group includes representatives of the Sports Council, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Congress Center, the stadium and Georgia Tech.

The 2020 Final Four would have been the first basketball event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which still hasn’t hosted a basketball game. Collier said that’s “really not a concern” as the NCAA considers the stadium for 2029 or 2031, given “all that goes with getting these games into these big stadiums.”

“We would love to be the host location for that event,” Dietmar Exler, the stadium’s chief operating officer, said of the Final Four. “We do everything we can at all the events, and for basketball, which is new in our stadium, we’d have probably double the attention to ... provide the best experience for all the athletes and fans and the NCAA.”

The Atlanta bid will point out that the city will have new offerings in 2029 or 2031 that it wouldn’t have had in 2020.

“A lot of new things are going to come online downtown,” Corso said. “You’ve got attractions and new technology coming online here at the stadium. You also have Centennial Yards (a massive development project in the Gulch area near the stadium) being built by that time period. The BeltLine will be completed for the most part by that time.

“What we had to offer in 2020 as a compact concentrated campus for this event will be expanded and grown and evolved seven to nine years from now.”

Atlanta has hosted the men’s Final Four on four occasions – 1977 at The Omni and 2002, 2007 and 2013 at the Georgia Dome.