By Vicki L. Friedman
The Richmond Coliseum isn’t just a new home for the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship – it’s the perfect home.
A three-year partnership with the City of Richmond will bring the A-10 Championship to the Coliseum for the next three years beginning in 2014. That’s news all of the league coaches embrace for reasons that are twofold.
“A neutral site is only good if the place you’re having it wants it,” said Rhode Island Coach Cathy Inglese. “Because the city of Richmond is embracing Atlantic 10 women’s basketball and they want to be involved, I think this is going to be tremendous.”
The welcome has been warm from the tip. Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, athletic directors and coaches already have a bond with many in the City of Richmond, including the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Richmond Coliseum and Mayor Dwight C. Jones.
“We’re very proud to be the host of the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship,” Jones told McGlade and the league’s coaches at the league’s media day held at the Richmond Coliseum, which literally rolled out the red carpet for the event. “I’m going to give you my full commitment to make sure everything goes well.”
Championship games will begin on Wednesday, March 5 with one play-in game and continue with four first-round games on Thursday, four quarterfinal games on Friday, a semifinal round on Saturday and an 11 a.m. championship game on Sunday. The semifinal games will be televised on CBS Sports Network and ESPNU will broadcast the championship games.
All 13 teams in the conference will be eligible to compete.
“It’s a great location for the A-10,”McGlade said. “We wanted to go to a city that had a sports commission and a quality venue, and we wanted to return multiple years so we had the opportunity to build some equity.”
“Is this not the best?” asked Richmond Coach Michael Shafer. “Seriously, is this not the best thing ever? I couldn’t be more happy with how things turned out.”
“Richmond is where I started as a head coach, and 27 years later, I’m back,” said Fordham Coach Stephanie Gaitley. “I love the idea. I’m thankful that the Atlantic 10 worked so hard to get it here, and I’m thankful to the city of Richmond.”
After a successful conference championship last March that saw a record attendance of 4,436 enjoy an Atlantic 10 championship final when Saint Joseph’s earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by nipping Fordham 47-46 in Barclays Center, the initial plan was to return to Brooklyn for a second year with early round games to be held on campus sites.
But when the City of Richmond contacted McGlade in June about the prospect of the Atlantic 10 moving the championship there, the commissioner listened. The bid – which includes $120,000 of capital improvements to the Coliseum – was impressive, and a site visit in July was even more so.
“Everything’s been first class,” said Saint Louis Coach Lisa Stone.
The easily accessible East Coast city with a population that is the third largest in the state when considering the metropolitan area as a whole is home to two Atlantic 10 schools – the University of Richmond and VCU, and it’s a 90-minute drive from two others, The George Washington University and George Mason University.
“I’m personally ecstatic,” said VCU Coach Marlene Stollings. “Our kids are thrilled at the idea of being able to play here in front of their friends and hometown fans. It’s going to be an incredible experience for them. We have the opportunity to ride the coattails of what the men did traditionally here in the Coliseum. For us to be able to do that is an exciting proposition for our kids.”
The storied Coliseum adds to the historical lore of the game. UMass alum Dr. J played there as a member of the Virginia Squires, Lefty Driesell coached many a college game there and Charlotte Smith hit perhaps the most famous shot in women’s basketball history on that court: a buzzer-beater that propelled North Carolina to the national championship in 1994.
“It really is the perfect storm,” said McGlade, excited about the numerous partnerships and outreach opportunities that will work to build fan attendance for the championship.
“Associate Commissioner Wendy Larry, who leads us with our women’s basketball initiative, has longtime roots in the whole state,” McGlade said. “Now she has a wonderful opportunity to reengage with a number of people she built partnerships with while she was at Old Dominion.”
Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, lauds the city as “a perfectly positioned destination. Basketball has long been important to the fabric of the Richmond community, he said.
“We have a long history of basketball and the tradition continues with the Atlantic 10,” he said. “We have all these colleges here, teams and alums who make it happen. We know how to host basketball events in Richmond.”
This will mark only the third time in the 32-year history of the event that it will take place at a neutral site. In 2011 the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass., hosted the event, and in 2010, Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. was host. Only eight conferences among the 31 in the NCAA will play their women’s basketball championship on a neutral court, separate from the men’s championship.
“Since my time in the league, I’ve always been a proponent of having a neutral site and to keep the championship in a place where we can grow it, as the Big 10 and some other conferences have done,” said Dayton coach Jim Jabir. “So for me, this is a dream come true. This is a city that is not just OK with having it; they’re excited about having it.”
Duquesne Coach Dan Burt expressed a similar sentiment about a sports town he’s fond of and a venue he attended several professional wrestling events in. “I love the championship coming to Richmond,” he said. I feel like a neutral site was needed. It’s not just a great sports town, but specifically it’s a great basketball town. It’s a well-sized arena with all the amenities nearby. I do believe Richmond is the perfect city location-wise, facility-wise and amenity-wise for the A-10.”
Virginia-based Vicki L. Friedman is the co-creator of LadySwish, a blog dedicated to the 13 Division I basketball teams in the state.