Columbus State University will host the Peach Belt Conference basketball tournament for the third year in a row, beginning March 6 at the Lumpkin Center on campus.
Coaches vote in two-year increments on a host site for the tournament, and Columbus received support for an extra year because of the success and familiarity with the venue.
“The support and relationship we have with (CSU athletic director) Jay Sparks and his staff here at Columbus State,” conference commissioner David Brunk said when asked what it is about CSU that attracts the tournament. “It’s a well-oiled machine, if you will. Everyone’s been really impressed and pleased with what Columbus has done, hence the third year for the championship.”
Fans will have to enjoy this year’s tournament, though, because it may not be back next season. Brunk said that beginning with the 2014-15 season, the format for the conference tournament will change.
No longer will coaches vote to decide a host. Instead, a rotation of sorts will begin with quarterfinals held at the higher seeds’ home campus on the last Saturday of the season. The final four men and women will alternate between the highest remaining seed in the men’s division. In 2014-15, the final fours will be at the East’s highest remaining top seed, and 2015-16 at the West’s.
“Just to change it up a little bit,” Brunk said. “We’ll see how that works out.”
This year, both Columbus State men and women will play in the tournament, which is a positive for the school but also the conference in general.
While Brunk doesn’t play favorites, he said he was relieved to see the men’s team clinch a spot so both teams would be represented.
“From a promotional standpoint, the opportunity to get both to come out to the event is important,” he said. “You can’t beat having the home team participate.”
Last year, the men were absent from the tournament just a year after a dramatic run to the conference championship game. In 2011-12, the Cougars won games in overtime and double overtime to advance to the finale against Montevallo, which would go on to play for the national championship.
“That was an exciting tournament from the men’s basketball perspective,” Sparks said. “And then, all of the sudden, they’re not here and you just lost some of the drama that comes with your team competing.”
Sparks didn’t have the numbers immediately available, but he did say attendance was down last year.
“Some of it is the teams,” he said. “For example, if it is the (UNC) Pembroke men, well they’re seven hours away from here. If we can get lucky and have schools that are a little closer to Columbus, that’s going to drive attendance, too. Especially if it’s Columbus State.”
The coaches, too, enjoy having their counterparts participate in the tournament.
“Having both teams is outstanding,” women’s coach Jonathan Norton said. “It’s going to be huge for our fan support.”
“Fans can come out and see both teams, and I think it’s good for the community and for the school,” men’s coach Robert Moore added.
The tournament will be held March 6-9. Women’s quarterfinals will be on Thursday and men’s on Friday. Semifinals for both will be Saturday and finals on Sunday.