The Summit League basketball conference tournament has been hosted at the Sioux Falls Arena for the past four years. The arena is contracted to hold the event for at least the next two years.
The University of South Dakota men’s and women’s basketball teams will be able to compete in the Summit League tournament for the first time next season, after completing their transition to Division I.
The Summit League’s Assistant Commissioner for Communications David Brauer said the league contracts host sites for two years, and the tournament has been in Sioux Falls since 2009. As Sioux Falls looks to bid for another contract after the 2013-2014 season, Brauer said it has built a strong case for itself.
“It’s been a tremendous success in Sioux Falls,” Brauer said. “We’ve had a record number of sponsorships, attendance records — almost every year we’ve had a new record in some area.”
This year’s tournament was the most successful in the Summit League’s 30 years. Brauer said the Summit League has moved up in conference strength and is at the top-half of mid-majors.
“The key part is having successful teams and an exciting brand of basketball,” Brauer said. “The success we’ve seen across the league and (South Dakota State University) teams’ trips to the NCAA tournaments this year really enhances the conference’s visibility.”
The Summit League has been able to televise all of its tournament games with either Midco Sports Network or Fox College Sports, which doesn’t happen for most conferences of the same size, Brauer said.
Within the Summit League conference, USD competes against in-state rival SDSU. Sioux Falls is about the halfway point between Vermillion and Brookings, setting the stage for record crowds at upcoming conference tournaments.
“The combination of support from SDSU fans and then USD jumping in next year will create a really exciting atmosphere for the tournament,” Brauer said. “The fan support is always there and the community really gets involved.”
USD’s Sports Information Director Kit Strief said having the tournament in Sioux Falls will attract a lot of USD fans.
“It’ll be great because it’ll be close to home and I think we’ll have a lot of fans that head up to it — there’s already been a lot of tickets purchased for next year’s event,” Strief said. “We’ll be able to play for an NCAA tournament appearance and the rivalry with SDSU is back for the first time in eight years.”
Freshman Sam Parkinson said he’s excited for USD to compete in the Summit League tournament.
“It’s exciting because we’d have the chance to go to the NCAA tournament if we won,” Parkinson said. “(SDSU) did decent while they were in it, so I think we’d be able to, too.”
SDSU fans have helped the tournament sell-out in many of its sessions, but Stief said he thinks USD will be able to compete for fan base.
“The newness and excitement of us being in the Summit League and being eligible for the NCAA tournament will encourage a lot of fans to come out next year,” he said.
Because the contracts for hosting the tournament are only good for two years, the bid process to host the 2015 and 2016 tournaments will begin during Summer 2013.
Brauer said because the tournament has been successful in Sioux Falls, not only during SDSU games, but all other games as well, it’ll be hard to compete against. Sioux Falls also has plans to build a new convention center where athletic events would take place, making it an even strong contender, Brauer said.
Strief said because Sioux Falls is close to both USD and SDSU, he hopes it’ll remain there.
“There’s been talk among other schools that the tournament might move around some, but I think anything that we can do to keep it in Sioux Falls would be great,” Strief said. “It’s great for the state of South Dakota and brings in a lot of revenue. If you look at other conference title games of our size, they don’t get nearly as much attendance as we’ve been getting at the Summit League.”
Parkinson said although Sioux Falls is close to students, he thinks people would be willing to travel farther if USD was in the championship game.
“If we had a shot to win it, people would travel to see us compete,” Parkinson said. “But having it in Sioux Falls is a great advantage for South Dakota fans.”
Tickets for next year’s Summit League tournament went on sale a few weeks ago at this year’s tournament. Brauer said nearly 1,000 All-Session passes were sold on the first day.
“Buy tickets early,” Brauer said. “I’d anticipate having a tremendous crowd and following. If (USD and SDSU) matchup during the tournament, those tickets will be premium. The tournament’s success will only increase with USD’s addition and as they get better on the court to make it more intense.”
Reach reporter Cassie Bartlett at Cassie.Bartlett@usd.edu.