March Madness is taking over Spokane with both the men's and women's NCAA tourneys in town

Thu, Mar 21, 2024

March Madness is taking over Spokane with both the men's and women's NCAA tourneys in town

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Twelve teams. Nine games. Four days.

A major college hoops fan probably won't find a better place than Spokane to watch this much of the NCAA Tournament in person during the opening weekend.

Separated by just 1.5 walkable miles along the Spokane River, the McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga and the Spokane Arena will host men's and women's tournament games beginning Friday and continuing through Monday. Spokane is the only location hosting both men's and women's games on the first weekend.

There will be four men's games on Friday, two women's games on Saturday, two men's games on Sunday and one women's game on Monday.

But while it creates a hoops heaven for basketball fans, it also created logistical challenges for Gonzaga - the host school for the women's tourney - the NCAA and the Spokane Sports Commission to overcome in order to pull together both tournaments.

"Our city is completely full at capacity," said Cherie Gwinn, senior director of events for the Spokane Sports Commission.

Spokane is a hoops hotbed that goes beyond the success of the local college teams. It's taken on the moniker of "Hooptown" in part because of Gonzaga's success in men's and women's hoops, the fact the NCAA loves bringing its events here because of the community support and because the city hosts the largest 3-on-3 outdoor basketball festival every summer, "Hoopfest."

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But this weekend is a new level of March Madness.

Along with the two big tournaments, the city is also hosting a regional youth volleyball tournament that takes place every March.

"We have a network of folks in our community that understands sports. They get it. ... Kudos to Gonzaga for their hard work and you can certainly see their payoff is coming to fruition as they're hosting here. Certainly, it hasn't been an easy road, but we were able to figure it out," Gwinn said.

Rob Kavon is the associate athletic director for facilities and events at Gonzaga and he oversaw putting together the school's bid to host the women's games. Kavon said Gonzaga started working on its bid late in the fall and it became clear early on that, with the men's tournament already claiming a large chunk of space in town, finding hotels willing to commit room space without the guarantee that Gonzaga would be a host was going to be an issue.

"It's really tough to convince a hotel when you have the men's NCAA already confirmed coming to Spokane and all of those fans coming in they're all looking for hotel rooms and they all need spaces," Kavon said.

Gonzaga eventually found hotel space for the teams across the border in Idaho, with two teams staying in Coeur d'Alene and one in Post Falls. But the bid required a waiver from the NCAA because the hotel in Coeur d'Alene is more than 30 minutes from the playing venue.

To try to ease the travel concerns, Kavon said the teams will have police escorts anytime they are traveling to Gonzaga and practice facilities are being provided at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene.

"It's one of those freak years and it's great for Spokane," Kavon said. "It's going to be unbelievable the amount of energy in Spokane this weekend and just the basketball fans that will be running around. It'll be a great scene."


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