What Keeps the Summit League in Sioux Falls?
Every year since 2009, the Sioux Falls Arena has been the site of the Summit League men and women's basketball championships. So, why does the league keep coming back to Sioux Falls?
"I think it's the way we run the men and women's tournaments combined. It creates a whole different atmosphere; we have a host hotel, where all the teams are in that hotel. The Arena makes it unique because you go in there, and it's loud. Attendance has been great. More and more fans are coming, and they now picked up not only on their home team, but are coming out to watch both Indiana schools compete against each other. I think that's what has really grown this tournament," says Summit League commissioner Tom Douple.
The league seems to break attendance records every March, too. In the second men's quarterfinal in 2014, 6,647 fans (a new tournament-record) watched South Dakota play Denver and South Dakota State play Western Illinois,
Overall, 4,125 fans saw the South Dakota women cut down the nets for the first time, and 16,472 total fans came out to support the women's tournament over four days. On the men's side, 4,263 fans saw North Dakota State advance to the NCAA tournament, while drawing 20,832 total fans. A total of 37,304 fans came to watch the Summit League tournament, which is third-best all-time.
The future keeps getting brighter, and the league is excited to play in the Premier Center.
"We can't wait. The amenities that the new arena is going to offer for our fans, student-athletes, staff, workers, and media is going to take us to a whole another level. I guarantee we are going to set some records next year in the new arena (laughs)," adds Douple.
Looking back, leaving the Arena will be difficult, as the league has enjoyed some pretty cool moments in the barn-like building. The South Dakota State women won five Summit League titles in their first five years, and never lost a game before losing to South Dakota this year. The USD women won their first title in 2014. The SDSU men won two straight titles behind Nate Wolters. NDSU's Ben Woodside hit a memorable shot in 2009.
"Somehow or another, just because the way it's designed with the roof, that place gets loud. It's really unique when there is an exciting play or basket. The noise level bounces off those walls, and creates a great atmosphere," tells Douple.
Over the years, the Arena has seemed like a home game for SDSU, USD, or NDSU, but all in all, the tournament has become a unique experience for a basketball-savvy town in South Dakota.
"I think it's the level of play of men and women's basketball. Our student-athletes have done a great job of raising the bar and it's just exciting basketball to watch. Our very knowledgable fans in the Sioux Falls area have realized that, and they like coming to see good basketball," tells Douple.
Sioux Falls has embraced the Summit League, and loves the chance to send teams dancing to the NCAA tournament.
"The support you get from the community. The corporate support, the fan support, the Arena staff is outstanding to work with, the volunteers and media coverage has been outstanding from television to print to radio, and of course, we have had some exciting basketball games," shares Douple.
It helps the tournament receives a little national attention on the college basketball landscape, too.
"This year, being as highly-ranked in men and women's basketball, it's a pretty good level. Getting every game on national television exposes our brand to a lot of folks. Obviously, with the USA Today article, it's become a national tournament, and it's no longer just a local tournament. That's what the beauty of it is," says Douple.
USA Today published an article before last week's tournament showcasing the league's tournament as one of March's best-kept secrets. Locally, the tournament was broadcast live on Midco Sports Net, and nationally, the women's final was on ESPNU, while the men's final was ESPN2.
In 2015, the Summit League men and women's basketball championships will move down the road from the Arena to the Denny Sanford Premier Center, a state-of-the-art facility that will seat 12,000 basketball fans.