By Don Davis
Minneapolis is in the final eight and hopes to snare the Final Four with the help of two national champions.
It’s no slam dunk, but state leaders are optimistic that the National Collegiate Athletic Association will pick the as-yet-to-be-built Vikings stadium to host the 2019 or 2020 college basketball championship. Minnesota’s largest city is among eight communities competing to host the finals.
In the U.S. sports world, the Final Four is second only to the Super Bowl, which the new stadium will host in 2018.
“It is going to bring national and international attention,” Gov. Mark Dayton promised Tuesday at a Capitol news conference, even though the NCAA will not decide on the host cities until November.
Dayton appointed two Minnesota basketball stars as honorary co-chairmen of the organizing committee.
Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen and Trent Tucker, a former National Basketball Association player, join the head of HealthPartners and president of the company building the new stadium as organizing leaders. Whalen and Tucker both are University of Minnesota graduates and have won professional basketball championships.
“What a great sports community we have here,” Whalen said.
“Our time is now,” Tucker added.
The unnamed stadium is little more than a bowl in the ground sprouting cranes and pillars, as construction is in its early stages.
Final Four bid co-chairman David Mortenson of the construction company that bears his name said the stadium was designed to handle events such as the basketball extravaganza. It has four locker rooms and plenty of space for media that always descend on the host stadium.
“We would not be submitting this if it were not for this one-of-a-kind stadium,” Mortenson said about the Final Four bid.
He said the area could receive a $70 million to $200 million benefit from the tournament.
“It is a wonderful chance to showcase our state and region,” added Mary Brainerd of HealthPartners, the other co-chair.
Dayton said no state money would be needed for the Final Four. Also, he said, the NCAA does not demand tax concessions, like the National Football League did for the Super Bowl.
The governor said he took his sons to the 1992 Final Four in the Metrodome, which was demolished to make way for the new stadium, and they were so high in the stands that “I should have brought a telescope.”
If the new stadium hosts a Final Four, 140-foot end-zone television screens will help fans keep track of what’s going on, said Michele Kelm-Helgen, director of the public body that is building the stadium.
Tucker said the distance from the playing floor is not a concern. “People are going to come just to be part of the Final Four.”
Other areas competing for Final Four tournaments from 2017 to 2020 are Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, North Texas, Phoenix, San Antonio and St. Louis.