Sports, Thrill of Victory

UConn and Nashville – Co-stars of the NCAA Women’s Final Four

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (left) and OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche (right) unveiled the Nashville Final Four logo during a celebration event in June. / Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Conference

A sold out Bridgestone Arena for the Women's Final Four championship between Notre Dame and UConn.

A sold out Bridgestone Arena for the Women’s Final Four championship between Notre Dame and UConn.

A night that was six years in the making, the NCAA Women’s Final Four championship game not only featured the first matchup of two undefeated teams and ultimately saw UConn claim its ninth NCAA Women’s Basketball championship, but also showcased the first time host city of Nashville. The Huskies dominance on the floor will be remembered for years to come but so will the experience fans and participants had visiting the city.

Talking about Nashville hosting the Final Four during the championship game post game press conference Tuesday night, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said; “It won’t be the last time. I know there were some circumstances [as to] why they haven’t been able to have one here earlier, but now that you’ve got the building, you’ve got the hotels. I could probably count 50 people that traveled down here with us that don’t want to go home. They said that they want to move down here.”

“And I think it’s just perfect. It’s not overwhelming. It’s not a place you’re going to get lost in. You don’t have to travel around for half an hour, 40 minutes in a car to go find stuff. It’s all right there.”

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma thinks this won't be the last time Nashville hosts a Final Four.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma thinks this won’t be the last time Nashville hosts a Final Four.

He added that, “The people have been absolutely amazing. As you knew they would [be]. This town has a great reputation. I’m sure they host great events. They’re used to it. And I hope this becomes a regular destination, and I hope we come back here. I hope we’re back here the next time they have it here.”

Prior to the game, Notre Dame senior Ariel Braker said of the city that, “It has been great. It is really warm and the people around Nashville have all been coming up to us and telling us good luck.”

Coaches and players weren’t the only ones enjoying the city, an estimated 20,000-30,000 visitors traveled to the city for the Final Four weekend. City leaders expect those visitors to have a $20 million – $25 million economic impact.

Speaking Tuesday night from their seats on the third row behind the Huskies band and cheerleaders prior to the title game, UConn fan Deb Henderson from Washington State and Alicia Crandell, a basketball coach from Colorado, were both happy to contribute their part of that estimated economic impact. The friends had been in Nashville since Saturday, both for the first time.

Thousands of fans visited the Final Four's "Tourney Town" located in the new Music City Center.

Thousands of fans visited the Final Four’s “Tourney Town” located in the new Music City Center.

Crandelll said of the trip that, “I didn’t have a team I was routing for; I just wanted to come experience the Final Four, see a good game and experience Nashville.”

While not at the games, Crandelll and Henderson took in some of Nashville’s most famous sites like the Grand Ole Opry and the honky tonks on Broadway. They also spent a great deal of time at the new Music City Center volunteering at the Final Four’s Tourney Town.

“We had a great time volunteering and loved seeing how excited the kids got. I defiantly think I would come back [to Nashville], especially if the Final Four came back, because there was so much more we wanted to do here but just didn’t have time for.”

The host Ohio Valley Conference, based in Brentwood, is proud of how the Women’s Final Four turned out. OVC Commissioner and Nashville Local Organizing Committee chairwoman Beth DeBauche told The Tennessean after the title game that, “It far exceeded our expectations, and we had really high expectations.”

She added that, “We were elated for what we have been able to do. This is a cherished event for the NCAA. We tried to take good care of it, and we think we were able to do that.”

All indications are that indeed the OVC and NLOC were able to take care of women’s basketball’s most treasured event. The reactions of participants and fans of the event also play a significant role in deciding the location of future Final Four destinations.

With the overwhelmingly positive reaction from fans and visitors, the NCAA committee can’t help but have Nashville near, if not at the top, of a short list of future Final Four cities.

That was evident when NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chairwoman, Carolayne Henry, spoke to The Tennessean following the game Tuesday.

“I’m definitely going to put my plug in for Nashville to get to host again, that’s for sure,” she said. “If we could come back here, I think it would be a great opportunity for us. I really like it here and I think everyone else does too.”

Henry added that, “Everything has been incredible, and when I say everything I mean everything from the setup to the hotels to the venues and especially the citizens and people of Nashville. You walk into a business and you get this warm welcoming feeling. Everyone is like, ‘Are you here for the Final Four? Welcome to Nashville.’ That has been so great.”

With selections looming for future Women’s Final Four host cities in the years 2017-2020 this November, it appears to be a pretty safe bet that Nashville will hear its named called once again.