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Three Super Bowls. Two Final Fours. Three NCAA Regionals.
We may not have any, but the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee does have a few which is why two members of the committee and other NCAA officials are in town for one final site visit before the group meets to decide the venues for the 2023-2026 Men’s Final Fours.
There’s no arguing that the Bayou City knows how to throw a mega sports event, but Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhardt and Duke AD Kevin White flew into Houston Thursday to take it all in one more time.
They’re here to ask questions, spend time with organizers, look over venues, hotels and, Houston hopes, choose the Bayou City to host its third Final Four.
Houston is one of seven finalists for one of those coveted four years up for bid, and the decision will be made by the 10-person committee in mid-July in Boston.
“You get a real sense of Houston that it has become a championship city. That may sound a little Pollyana,’’ said White, referring to the Disney character who always looks on the bright side, “but it’s not . . . .
“This is a city that knows how to put on, how to host major events. There’s a real track record of success. And now we find out it has (the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) that goes on for a couple of weeks. This community knows how to support major events and that will be pretty impactful when the committee meets.’’
Just how impactful? Every little bit helps when you’re up against North Texas and AT&T Stadium, San Antonio, Detroit, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. All but Los Angeles has hosted a Final Four and LA is building a facility in Inglewood.
Houston’s bid was on stage Thursday at NRG when Barnhart, White and the NCAA toured the facility and attended a welcome reception at the stadium.
“Our campaign is Three for the Win,’’ said Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority. “We’re excited to be among the finalists and we look forward to showing off what we feel is a tremendous host city one more time for the committee.’’
Barnhardt and White both noted that they’ll be looking at the new hotels and upgrades since the last time the Final Four was here in 2016. The use of Discovery Green and much of the downtown campus during Super Bowl LI have also caught the committee’s eyes.
“All the pieces of the puzzle have been here,’’ White said. “Now they’re enhanced . . . There is some very strong competition – let’s be very frank and honest about that. But I cannot imagine that Houston, by the end of the day, will not be seriously in the mix. “
Barnhardt, who was here with Kentucky in 2011, said the fan-friendly atmosphere plays a role in the city bids too.
“First and foremost, it’s about the athletes and the players being able to enjoy and have a really quality experience,’’ he said. “Secondly, the fans. We want them to have an opportunity to feel the life of the city, to enjoy themselves and experience some great basketball and have a really, really cool experience.’’
White and Barnhardt will take their findings to the committee and the seven finalist cities will have one more chance to sell their bid and answer any final questions.
“Then,’’ White said, “as, within the Catholic community, we’ll see white smoke.’’
Houston will host a 2020 NCAA Regional and the city was recently awarded the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship game. The city is also one of the eight finalists for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Fours from 2020-2024, which will be awarded later this year.