Bruce Parker has been to enough national tournaments that he knows what makes them great. Now the athletic director at Rocky Mountain College is putting together what he hopes will be the best in the country.
It’s less than two months from the NAIA Women’s Division I National Basketball Championship — which will run March 15-21 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark — and Parker said Tuesday things are on track to make it successful.
“We want to do it right and we want to do it better than Kansas City or Sioux City, Iowa, or Branson, Missouri,” Parker said, noting the locations for the NAIA’s other three national basketball tournaments.
“We knew it was going to be a massive undertaking when we accepted it,” Parker added. “It just takes a lot. It’s the first time we’ve done it … and we’re concerned with everything, from hospitality rooms to (score) table crews. They’re things we know how to do, but just never at this magnitude.”
Billings was awarded the national tournament in September, leaving just more than six months to plan. Rocky Mountain College and Visit Billings are the official hosts.
“You think we have a long time, but we don’t,” said Parker, who was the athletic director at Carroll before coming to Rocky. “It’s kind of (sneaking) up on us quick.”
Parker and Alex Tyson, executive director of Visit Billings, said support from the community for the tournament has been strong.
Tyson said Tuesday that Wells Fargo will be the title sponsor and all game-day sponsorships have been sold. She estimated the cost to put on the tournament at $175,000.
“We’re not trying to make money with this,” Tyson said, “but we also don’t want to lose money.”
The biggest issue remaining, both Tyson and Parker said, is getting sponsors for the 32 teams coming to Billings for a tournament that will see 31 games over six days. Rocky Mountain, as the host school, earns an automatic spot in the field.
Tyson said getting businesses to sponsor the teams has been slow. It costs $1,500 and the business also takes the team to dinner one night. The sponsors then become attached to their teams, even getting spots on the team’s bench. It’s also their job to help the team become familiar with Billings.
“We’ve had good support,” Tyson said. “We just need a little more.”
Added Parker: “When I’ve gone to nationals, we’ve had great hosts for our schools. It really makes a difference when you get to town.”
The national tournament will be the end of a busy month-plus stretch at Rimrock Auto Arena. It also will see the all-class state wrestling tournament, boys and girls divisional basketball tournaments and the Class B boys and girls state basketball tournaments.
Tyson estimates bringing the national tournament to Billings could generate $7-9 million for the economy. It’s the reason they bid, which they also did in 2014.
Billings was given the chance to bid again after Independence, Mo., declined its option to host. Billings also will host the tournament in 2018.
Tyson said last year’s tournament in Independence drew only 3,100 fans over the six days.
Last year four teams from the Frontier Conference played. This season, it appears likely that Lewis-Clark State, Carroll, MSU-Northern, Rocky and perhaps the University of Great Falls will be part of the field.
“This is an amazing thing for the community,” Tyson said. “We have an opportunity here to embrace this tournament and these ladies and impact the height of their collegiate basketball careers.
“If we do it right — and we have it for (2018) — we’d love to have it longer.”
Parker also believes the tournament will be a success in Billings.
“We think it’s going to be a great thing,” he said. “We want people to come out and support these student-athletes. It’s outstanding basketball they’re going to see. It’s the best 32 teams in the country for women’s basketball at this level. We’re excited about having them here.”