Anthony Holman, the NCAA’s managing director of championships and alliances, playing rules and officiating, usually has brief moments to rest between pit stops. Or should we say Pitt stops? The team at SportsPittsburgh was the big winner when the NCAA, in April 2017, announced homes for more than 500 championships through 2022. Between now and then, 22 NCAA championships will be in Pittsburgh—making it one of Holman’s regular stomping grounds. But if the Indianapolis-based Holman has his way, he’ll become newly acquainted with many new destinations.
Between bidding cycles, the NCAA is in research and development mode. Specifically, Holman’s team is collecting feedback from participating destinations and venues that were part of the last process. At the same time, Holman is cultivating relationships with CVBs and sports commissions that may be a good fit with the NCAA—but don’t know it yet. The Final Four is ubiquitous in popular culture, and the Frozen Four is another well-known event. Those behemoths, hosted by the likes of Dallas
and Columbus, Ohio
, for example, can overshadow other championships that are more manageable for destinations like, say, Columbus, Georgia
. If Holman does his job properly, regularly hosts will remain part of the rotation and the NCAA’s list of prospective hosts grows.
Holman calls it an education process. Connect Sports took a turn in the classroom to learn more from Holman, who’s been with the NCAA for nine years and was promoted to his current position—in which he manages 19 people overseeing 22 championships—in May. Of course, our interview occurred right before Holman was off to Pittsburgh
The NCAA awarded more than 500 championships last year. What keeps you busy now?
We’re not in an active bid cycle but we are still trying to foster relationships with cities interested in our championships, venues have facilities would be a good match for our venues. We want to be a little more intentional in identifying potential locations and not just responsive. What we’ve done already is some internal analysis and gotten some feedback from folks who hosted our championships or bid on our championships on the process. Was our bid portal beneficial? Were the symposiums we put on helpful? Is there a better way for us to deliver bid information and put out RFPs? We are working on an analysis of the last process to refine it and make that better. We’re doing a lot of listening and learning.
What are some early results of your analysis?
What we’ve learned, and what I heard in Salt Lake City [at Connect Sports], is people know about our championships but they are not sure how to connect. A small town like Columbus, Georgia, which has great softball, tennis and golf facilities, may not be able to host a Division I championship. We’ll educate them on the benefits of hosting our Division II or Divisions III championships, or hosting a Division 1 regional. There are plenty of opportunities for communities.
How do you go about attracting new hosts while maintaining relationships with your regular partners?
That’s a difficult balance for sure. We are grateful to Columbus [Ohio]; Pittsburgh, St. Louis and others that have hosted a number of our championships several times. There is a benefit to those local organizing committees who understand our structure and how we operate. We often bring in potential host cities to shadow some of those cities so we can provide a similar experience when the event goes to their place.
The addition of beach volleyball brought the NCAA to 90 championship sports. Are you ever going to get to 100?
Ha-ha! Oh boy—That’s a fair question. We’ll keep following our members and as they look to add additional sports on campus and addition opportunities for student-athletes to participate, we’ll explore ways to provide championships for them. Beach volleyball has been great for us, by the way. That’s a tremendous championship. There is a lot of excitement and several institutions have taken to it.
What’s an example of an even you’re proud of that many people might not know about?
Our Division II festivals, which is going to be in Pittsburgh, is an awesome event where folks get a chance to go in and get an Olympic feel, if you will. You’re in a community for a week and get to check out four or five or six different championships. Our student-athletes really love that experience. That really drives a lot of interest and economic impact, as well.
Sounds great. Could that ever work on the Division I level?
It’s too big. What you will see more of are combined championships—like we did with men’s basketball in Atlanta a few years ago—where we bring all three divisions together. We’ve done that with field hockey and lacrosse. Women’s basketball has done that, too. Trying to get the dates and schedules aligned is a lot tougher on the D-1 level.
Everyone is talking about esports—where does the NCAA stand on gaming?
I would not say we are wait-and-see. We’re exploratory in the space. We’re trying to be a resource for members and some institutions go down this road. It’s operating under student services or other groups now—none really coming through athletic departments. Athletic departments are now asking us: Wow would scholarships be counted? What venues hold the competitions? And what it’s mean for amateurism if these kids are playing and receiving money? We are looking at the landscape and saying this is what it needs to look like if we had a championship and what are the benefits and barriers.
Back to new host destinations, Las Vegas is the final frontier for NCAA championships. What’s the future hold there?
It’s not if, but when. Las Vegas
provides a lot of great venues and opportunities for our championships. We have member conferences already having great experiences there and there are a number of in-season competitions there in wrestling, baseball, basketball and men’s and women’s ice hockey are going to have some events there. I anticipate our membership will have some voice legislatively that would allow for that and then we’ll move in. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before—that’s for sure.