When the NAIA Division 1 Women’s Basketball National Championship rolls into Billings, Montana, March 15-21, it won’t only be 32 women’s teams competing for the title. The state’s largest city
will also be looking to score when hosting an NAIA basketball championship for the first time.
“Somebody said to me, ‘Why don’t you host a national tournament in Billings?’” says Bruce Parker, Rocky Mountain College athletic director and the local point person for the event. “I thought that might be a good idea.”
Parker got the ball rolling, so to speak, when he teamed with Visit
Billings Executive Director Alex Tyson to make the initial bid. “I knew if we could get her behind it we’d have a great chance,” says Parker of Tyson.
When it came time for the site visit, Parker and the team pulled out all the stops to impress NAIA Associate Director of Championship Events Jamie Adams
and Manager of Athletics Communications and Media Alan Grosbach. The Billings mayor met Adams and Grosbach at the airport, and they participated in dinners with civic leaders, press conferences and individual media interviews.
Adams says the personalization factor helped Billings win the bid. “They did a great job of not only the wining and dining, but also asking us multiple times, ‘Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to see? What do you want on the itinerary so you can make this decision?’” says Adams, whose site visit was her first trip to Billings.
The tournament schedule is grueling: eight games per day for the first three days on a single court at Rimrock Auto Arena. To take home the trophy, a team must win five games in six days. “It’s a grind to win a national championship,” says Adams. “I’m just shooting for a smooth tournament.”
Fitting the Billings
Ensuring the athletes have a top-notch experience is Adams’ top priority. “The one thing that’s in the back of my mind is the time it takes to travel to the sites,” says Adams. “We’re trying to make that as easy for teams as possible, and once they get to the championship and start playing games, I think people will be impressed.”
Elements of the tournament are being revamped to be “new millennium-ish,” says Parker, hinting that big video screens, a DJ and a selfie station are part of that effort. The student athletes will also mentor kids in local schools through NAIA’s Champions of Character initiative while they are in town.
Part of Parker’s task is looking at both short-term and long-term goals hosting NAIA. The projected economic impact for Billings is between $9 million and $11 million, says Parker, not including the chance to sell out-of-towners on returning.
“From the time their bus wheels roll into Billings to the time they leave, we want them to know this is an important event for us and the state of Montana,” says Parker. “We want people to come back.”
One thing is certain: The NAIA Division 1 Women’s Basketball National Championship will be back in 2018 (Billings won a two-year contract). Beyond that, Parker has bigger dreams. “We want to be the Lewiston, Idaho [longtime host to the NAIA World Series], for women’s national tournaments,” he says.
It’s certainly a possibility. Adams says there is no contract out yet for the women’s 2019 championship. “When you get a city and community that really buys in, that helps with event atmosphere so much,” she says. “We would absolutely be willing to look at Billings again.”