ALBANY — After having two NCAA championship events canceled by COVID-19 in March, the Times Union Center got right back in the rotation for those on Wednesday.
And UAlbany broke into the rotation for the first time, in men’s lacrosse.
The NCAA announced postseason sites for 450 events from 2022-26, and the TU Center was awarded the men’s basketball first and second rounds in 2023; the women’s basketball regional in 2024; and the men’s hockey regional in 2022 and 2026.
In addition, UAlbany will host the NCAA men’s lacrosse quarterfinals, which will include two games at Casey Stadium, in 2023.
Getting another crack at the men’s basketball March Madness was the highlight for the Capital Region venues, since the TU Center had no difficulty selling out 13,800 seats for the first and second rounds this March, only to see that prospect go up in smoke because of the pandemic.
“It’s a huge win for Albany,” TU Center general manager Bob Belber said. “We got four major championship events from the NCAA awarded to us. It’s a breath of fresh air and such tremendously positive news at a time when we’re still closed due to the pandemic.
“We’re inspired and honored that the NCAA has confidence in our market and building and staff. Having been only days away from hosting the 2020 men’s basketball before the cease of the tournament last March, we kind of got the carpet pulled out from under us, and not for anybody’s fault other than the pandemic.”
On March 19 and 21, the TU Center was supposed to have hosted men’s basketball March Madness for the first time since 2003. At first, the NCAA announced that the tournament would go on without fans, then the tournament was canceled entirely.
Tickets for the March Madness games at the 13,800-seat TU Center (not counting suites) had been sold out since early January.
The arena also lost NCAA East Region men’s hockey games on March 28 and 30. It would’ve been the 12th appearance by the men’s hockey tournament, including two Frozen Fours.
“The other things we’re really happy about is the women’s basketball coming back in 2024, and it’s also amazing that we were able to get the 2022 and 2026 men’s ice hockey,” Belber said.
The women’s basketball tournament, bolstered by the presence of UConn in the regional field, has been a big hit at the TU Center, which had already been scheduled to host the 2021 tournament next March.
In 2019, the regional drew 9,204 for the championship between UConn and Louisville, and 17,549 for the two-day session.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will serve as the host member for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“As a women’s basketball coach, when you know the community is behind you and you know the leadership at the Times Union Center and on our own campus and within our Capital Region loves and supports women’s basketball, it makes you want to work that much harder,” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said. “We’re lucky to live in an area that loves and supports women’s sports.”
“It’s a testament to the fans in the Capital Region, that they’re able to support college basketball in such a strong way and that the NCAA sees fit to continue to come back here for both the men’s and women’s tournaments,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said.
ECAC Hockey is listed as the host member for the 2022 men’s hockey bid that was awarded, and Union College is listed for the 2026 bid.
Belber said bid applications for the 2022-26 cycle of site awards, which were submitted late last year, were based on presumptive 100% seating occupancy.
The TU Center was also trying to get postseason events in men’s and women’s volleyball and fencing. The fencing bid was to host at the Albany Capital Center.
“We’re also hoping to prove that Albany should have men’s basketball back more frequently,” he said. “All of this is assuming that there will be a vaccine, that it’ll be distributed relatively soon. The sooner the better, and, obviously, in a safe way. But when we have that first of the four events take place, we believe fully that by that time we’ll have people coming back and a better sense of normalcy that lets people enjoy what they used to going to live events.”
Securing the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament was something of a watershed moment for the UAlbany program, which continues to gain a strong foothold as a national presence in that sport.
“If you could see the smile behind this mask, it’s ear-to-ear,” Great Danes head coach Scott Marr said during a media availability at the school. “Unbelievable. Obviously, thanks to our administration for putting in a bid and getting us to this point. But, really, the thanks go to our fans and the support we get on a yearly basis.
“I don’t see why we don’t put 10,000 people in the stands. I think the quarterfinal round is the best round of the tournament, as far as the competition. You’re typically looking at the top eight teams in the country. Maybe somebody sneaks in there as an upset, but for the most part the quarterfinal round is the most exciting round.”
If UAlbany happens to be a team that makes it that far that season, Marr expects they’ll be sited at their home stadium.
“Absolutely, they would let us in that bracket,” he said. “They kind of do their best to put you in that bracket.
“This is as good as it gets. We have a national tournament coming to our home site, having four teams on our campus, and hopefully one of them is us. You’re going to have teams that have probably never been here before. But just the exposure of the whole weekend, having us on TV, is great for the area.
“I think it speaks volumes for what we’ve done over the past 20 years, but the past seven years, especially. I think what they’ve seen is top-five in the country in attendance, and that goes back to our fans. They try to pick areas where they’re going to get the crowd they’re looking for.”