Detroit gets Frozen Four, NCAA wrestling, more hoops

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

A bevy of NCAA championship events will be heading to Detroit in the coming years.

The Detroit Sports Commission was awarded seven bids by the NCAA on Tuesday, highlighted by the men’s Frozen Four hockey championship in 2020, the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament in 2021, and the Division I wrestling championships in 2022.

Michigan State University will play host for the Frozen Four, the University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland University for the NCAA Tournament and the University of Michigan for the wrestling championships. The Red Wings’ and Pistons’ new home, Little Caesars Arena, will be the venue for all three events.

The bids were among 54 submitted by the DSC for 15 championship events in nine sports for 2019-22.

“It did exceed our expectations,” DSC director Kris Smith said. “We would've been pleased with three (events). Four and five we would've been sitting in dreamland somewhere. I think when No. 7 rolled across the screen we all just kind of sat back and said, 'Wow.'

“I think it's a recognition of things going on here in our community. It speaks to the fact that this community is strong, that the NCAA was willing to put more than three of their marquee events here to go inside of an arena and keep things in one location. Seeing that the NCAA placed so many different events here …I think that they're spreading out and they're recognizing the work and the renovations and the true partnerships that have been in our community. We are elated and extremely excited."

It will be the seventh time Detroit will host the Frozen Four and Little Caesars Arena will mark the fourth different venue, joining Olympia Stadium (1977, 1979), Joe Louis Arena (1985, 1987, 1990) and Ford Field (2010).

"To us, it’s quite a compliment," said Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment president and CEO. "It’s quite a testament to the facility, to our people, and most of all the City of Detroit. You look at where city has come from and now to get this sort of endorsement from somebody like the NCAA, it’s an amazing thing for the City of Detroit.

"It couldn’t be any better for us, because it’s sort of national validation that it’s gonna be a great building and we have amazing fan support, and you know, the culture here is based around sports, here in Detroit and the entire area. Our history with the NCAA in terms of selling tickets, historically, for wrestling and men’s basketball and everything like that has been so good that I think they looked at that said, ‘Good building, good people and great, let’s give it to them,’ and we couldn’t be more proud."

Smith said it’s the start of an effort to get Detroit back into the regular rotation as a host city for the Frozen Four.

“The Red Wings’ presence here and the overall hockey community in this region speaks to one of our strengths, even down to USA Hockey coming into the area, considering we just hosted the World Women's Championship (at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth) and three other national championships,” Smith said. “I think having NCAA hockey back here in Detroit is home.”

For the Division I wrestling championships, it will mark the first time the event will be hosted in Detroit. The last time it took place at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2007. Prior to that, Michigan State hosted it at Jenison Fieldhouse in 1942 and Michigan hosted it at Yost Field House in 1934.

Smith attended the Division I wrestling championships in March at Scottrade Center in St. Louis and got a firsthand look at how big of a draw the sport is.

"It is going to bring in a lot of people,” Smith said. “If you want to speak about the number of people coming in, I think you're looking at anywhere between $13 and $15 million economic impact for a direct spending number for us here.

“In St. Louis, you're looking at a sold-out arena, so you're looking at 20,000 people potentially coming here to Detroit to watch wrestling. I think it's a tremendous event for us. St. Louis estimated that 97 percent of their 19,000-plus visitors came from outside of their area and from a sports tourism point of view that is a significant number.”

The DSC was also awarded the men’s and women’s fencing championships and women’s bowling championships in 2020; the Division II women’s golf championships in 2021; and the Division II men’s golf championships in 2022. It was the commission’s first time bidding on the Division II men’s and women’s golf and fencing championships.

Smith stressed the importance to go after the golf, bowling and fencing events because of the “wide variety of demographics” in the Metro Detroit area.

“While it's always wonderful to get the hockey, the wrestling, the basketball, I think it's also important to recognize the other sports that we actually host here in this community, just on a smaller basis,” he said. “Last year in October we hosted USA fencing in an event with them. Golf has been big in this area in the past and bowling is returning here for the first time since 2013. … This is the largest metropolitan area in terms of membership for the United States Bowling Congress.

“These events really speak to our desire to reach out to more individuals, more citizens in our community and be able to provide an outlet for them to come out and see some things, and for our young student-athletes to be able to aspire to go to college to participate in these events."

Little Caesars Arena and Detroit Mercy already is playing host to first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in 2018, which was previously awarded.

According to Smith, Little Caesars Arena is the first venue scheduled to host four NCAA championship events before it has even opened.

“I think speaks to the testimony of what's going on not just with that facility but in our region,” he said.

Smith added the DSC will continue to move forward with some of its upcoming events, like the USA Taekwondo National Championships in late June and AAU Junior Olympic Games in late July, but also will be taking a look at future men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four bids in the summer.

“I'm not saying we're going after them. What I'm saying is we want to vet them out and see what opportunities exist at this point,” Smith said. “We want to work with Ford Field on that opportunity and we want to work with Little Caesars Arena again on the women's opportunity.

“We have a lot that's coming down the road and…we have quite a few things in our pipeline.”

Detroit News staff writer Tony Paul contributed

Detroit Sports Commission awarded bids

National Collegiate Men’s and Women’s Fencing Championships

Dates: March 19-22, 2020

Host: University of Detroit Mercy

Venue: Cobo Center

National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championships

Dates: April 9-11, 2020

Host: University of Detroit Mercy

Venue: Thunderbowl Lanes

Division I Men's Ice Hockey Frozen Four

Dates: April 9-11, 2020

Host: Michigan State University

Venue: Little Caesars Arena

Division I Men’s Basketball First and Second Rounds

Dates: March 18 & 20, 2021

Hosts: University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland University

Venue: Little Caesars Arena

Division II Women's Golf Championships

Dates: May 12-15, 2021

Host: Wayne State University

Venue: TPC Michigan

Division I Men's College Wrestling Championships

Dates: March 17-19, 2022

Host: University of Michigan

Venue: Little Caesars Arena

Division II Men's Golf Championships

Dates: May 16-20, 2022

Host: Wayne State University

Venue: TPC Michigan