Wichita extended its winning streak with the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday.
The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are coming to Wichita, as the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee selected Intrust Bank Arena as one of four regional sites for the 2022 women’s tournament March 25-28, 2022. The bid was led by WSU, Visit Wichita, and Intrust Bank Arena.
“We showed the world that our community is championship-caliber,” said Brian Hargrove, Visit Wichita’s executive director of sports development. “Now we get to do it again and keep this momentum going.”
The event marks the fourth successful NCAA Tournament bid for Intrust Bank Arena, which hosted first- and second-round games of the 2011 women’s tournament as well as this spring’s men’s tournament. The city also has won a bid to host first- and second-round games for the 2021 men’s tournament.
Wichita State University will once again serve as host for the 2022 games.
To Brad Pittman, WSU’s associate athletic director who served as the tournament manager for the 2018 men’s tournament, Wednesday’s news was validation that this spring’s tournament was a success.
“We hit a home run with the men’s tournament and that set us up to host this event and hopefully more events in the future,” Pittman said. “I think we’ve proven that we’re passionate about sports here. You can look at attendance at (WSU) events. It’s usually exponentially better than a lot of our counterparts.
“Wichita sports fans are passionate and they’re going to come out and support.”
Wichita back as a regular
Before acting as host to the 2011 women’s tournament, Wichita hadn’t been the site of an NCAA Tournament game since 1994 at the Kansas Coliseum. WSU also held NCAA men’s games at its on-campus arena in 1956, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1978, and 1981.
Now that Wichita has returned to a regular NCAA hosting site for the first time since the 70s, Pittman said the challenge is maintaining the level of success Wichita produced in its first two chances.
The women’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight brings a bigger spotlight, but also a bigger opportunity to make an impression on the NCAA committee.
“We’re going to have four of the best 16 teams in the country here,” Pittman said. “Three of those teams are going home and some kids are playing in their last game. I want them to have a memorable experience in Wichita and make sure they were happy they were here.”
No one on wanted to guess what the economic impact on the women’s regional would be, but it is expected to be a boost from when the city hosted the 2011 women’s tournament.
Those were first- and second-round games without any team within reasonable driving distance, yet Wichita led neutral-site locations in attendance (8,791 fans over the two days) and ranked seventh out of 16 host sites.
A boost is expected because of the increased importance of the game, as well as the likelihood that Wichita will draw at least one regional power that has a traveling fan base like Baylor, Oklahoma, or Texas A&M.
“It’s too early in the process right now (to guess at the economic impact),” Hargrove said. “But in a few months, we’re planning on putting those numbers together on what we expect to see. We’re hoping the numbers are better this time because the event is much bigger than it was last time.”
A win for women’s sports
Wichita drew more than 7,200 fans at Koch Arena on back-to-back nights to watch the Wichita State volleyball team play in the 2017 NCAA Tournament opening rounds.
Becky Endicott, WSU’s senior associate athletics director, views Wednesday’s news as a victory for the growth of women’s sports in Wichita and an opportunity for Wichita State women’s athletics to attract future NCAA events.
“I think anytime you can bring NCAA Tournament games to your city, it’s a win-win situation for your program,” Endicott said. “Wichita is a great women’s sports city. We’ve proven we can put fans in the stands and this is another great opportunity for us to showcase women’s basketball at its best.
“Maybe we can host a NCAA softball regional and do some other different things because of this.”
WSU women’s basketball coach Keitha Adams has visions of her program competing at a top-25 level and Wednesday’s announcement offers a tantalizing prospect.
“I’m a dreamer and a visionary, so it definitely plants a seed in there and makes my wheels turn,” Adams said. “I’m excited about it coming to our great city and the attention it’s going to bring to women’s basketball. It’s great for the game and great for us. We’re going to dream big.
“We got a long ways to go, but it’s all about planting seeds and working hard to achieve big goals.”