According to reports from sources within the SEC, the league will announce today that it plans on making Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena the semi-permanent home of the SEC men’s basketball tournament. Why is it semi-permanent? Because the conference has already awarded several upcoming years to Atlanta (2014, 2020), Saint Louis (2017) and Tampa (2018), to go along with previously-established plans for Nashville to host in 2015, 2016 and 2019. What today’s announcement changes is that the Music City will also host the league’s marquee basketball event for a six-year run from 2021-26, meaning that nine of the next 13 SEC Tournaments will take place on the banks of the Cumberland River. Semi-permanent, indeed.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive mentioned last spring that the conference was exploring the notion of holding the SEC Tournament at a “primary” location in much the same way that Atlanta hosts the annual SEC Championship in football, and Hoover, Alabama, hosts baseball’s version of the SEC Tournament. Athletic directors and league officials at the time pointed to the sustained success of those events as the driver toward consolidation of the event in a single, primary venue, but the league’s dirty little basketball secret remained unspoken among public officials. Unlike SEC football, whose cultural hegemony vacuums up year-round fan and media attention in the deep South from College Station eastward all the way to Columbia, SEC basketball outside of a few select schools remains mostly an afterthought. Nashville as the primary SEC Tourney site makes sense not only because the city really embraces the event and provides a superb downtown “fun zone” that allows fans a great weekend experience, but also because it’s a relatively easy driving trip for the few schools’ fans that will show up because they at least marginally care about basketball (we’re talking about Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and sometimes Tennessee and Arkansas here).