By Solomon Crenshaw
Alabama News Center
Scotty Colson is proud to say that he’s never missed an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament when it has been played in Birmingham.
“Every game that’s ever been played here has had me as a common denominator,” said Colson, president of the Greater Birmingham Tipoff Club.
So, there was no way he was going to miss the tournament’s return to the Magic City after a 15-year hiatus.
“I signed up for this during the Final Four, last year,” Colson said. “When they first went on sale, we got like a 24-hour jump on anybody else. It was a no-brainer.”
Sixty-eight men’s basketball teams from across the country learned March 12 they are in the Big Dance. And for the first time in a decade and a half, Birmingham is home to one of the ballrooms – Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
And what a dance card Birmingham has.
Alabama, the No. 1 team in the South Region and the overall No. 1 team in the tournament for the first time in program history, is in Birmingham.
So, too, is fellow No. 1 Houston (31-3), the top team in the Midwest Region. And as if that weren’t enough, Auburn (20-12) is one of the eight teams taking the court in Birmingham’s Uptown District.
Action tips off at 11:15 a.m. Thursday with No. 9 West Virginia (19-14) taking on No. 8 Maryland (21-12) on CBS.
Alabama (29-5), the regular season and tournament champion of the Southeastern Conference, will begin its journey at 1:45 p.m., facing No. 16 Texas A&M Corpus Christi (24-10). The Islanders will play just two days after having held off Southeast Missouri 75-71 in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.
The evening session Thursday opens with No. 9 Auburn facing No. 8 Iowa (19-13) at 5:50 p.m. on TNT. Houston follows in the nightcap at 8:20 p.m., taking on No. 16 Northern Kentucky (22-12) on TNT.
The tournament in Birmingham is officially a sellout, but aftermarket tickets are available. Tickets were going from $432 to as high as $2,160 Wednesday morning on Stubhub.com.
The luscious lineup at Legacy Arena and the tournament’s return to Birmingham are due to the rebuild that was done at what was formerly the BJCC Coliseum.
David Galbaugh, director of sports sales and marketing for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new and improved Legacy Arena was the catalyst for bringing the tournament back.
“It was a complete renovation,” Galbaugh said of the new Legacy. “It wasn’t just some paint and a little bit of landscaping. This was big for us and, coupled with City Walk and Protective Stadium and everything that we have going on, it just makes us that much better of a tourism destination and particularly a sports destination.
“The citizens of Jefferson County and Birmingham deserved a top-tier arena,” he continued. “It was really intentional from the BJCC’s perspective to make sure that when we went back and renovated that we put out a product that could host great events and that our city would be proud of.”
While NCAA games are set for Thursday and Saturday, the economic impact of the tournament returning to town will be felt most of this week.
“It’s gonna be big for us,” Galbaugh said. “We’ll have to wait and see when the dust settles, but it could be around $10 million-plus, so it should be a huge economic driver for our community.”
The buzz about the tournament is palpable around Birmingham. Mountain Brook’s Taylor Schoel remembers the last time the tournament was played here, partly because he didn’t attend.
The engineer secured his tickets this past fall.
“I missed ’08 when they were here,” the Alabama alumnus recalled. “I was at the beach, and I missed that. I went when I was in high school, in 2003, so it’s been 20 years since I’ve been to the tournament here.
“I was like, ‘I gotta go. I don’t care who’s playing.’”