NCAA awards Final Four to Las Vegas for first time

Nov 22, 2022, 11:52 AM | Updated: 1:04 pm
UCLA's Adem Bona, left, fouls Baylor's Dale Bonner during the first half of an NCAA college basketb...

UCLA's Adem Bona, left, fouls Baylor's Dale Bonner during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

The Final Four is headed for the first time to Las Vegas, where wagering on the NCAA Tournament has long been a staple of March Madness revelry, after the NCAA awarded the men’s national semifinals and championship game to Allegiant Stadium for the 2027-28 season.

The NCAA also announced Tuesday that Ford Field in Detroit would host the Final Four in 2027, while Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis would get the 2029 event and AT&T Stadium in Dallas would get the 2030 event.

“We are excited to bring the NCAA’s premier championship to Las Vegas, a city that for a number of years has hosted numerous championships from several member conferences,” said Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds, who chairs the NCAA selection committee. “The feedback from leagues, the fans of their teams and the media covering the events staged there has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are confident we’ll get the same reviews.”

The national championship this season will be decided at NRG Stadium in Houston, while State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, the Alamodome in San Antonio and Lucas Oil Stadium already had been chosen for the following three Final Fours.

The NCAA long shied away from taking marquee events to Las Vegas because of its reputation as a gambling mecca. But the stance softened over the years, particularly as sports wagering became legal in states across the country, and many leagues have made its glitzy arenas the homes of their postseason basketball tournaments.

The Mountain West will play its championship game this season at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Pac-12 at T-Mobile Arena, the West Coast Conference at Orleans Arena and the WAC split between Michelob ULTRA Arena and Orleans Arena.

Las Vegas already was scheduled to host nine other NCAA championships over the next four years, and the men’s NCAA Tournament will head there for the first time next March when a regional round is played at T-Mobile Arena.

“We’re thrilled. It’s pretty exciting to have such a marquee event come to town,” said Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Vegas has been a basketball town for decades. We’ve had an interesting road with the NCAA along that time. It is really gratifying to be able to work with the NCAA to bring their marquee event here and really celebrate what basketball is all about in this town.”

Once a pariah for sports, Las Vegas has suddenly become a destination. The Raiders and Golden Knights of the NHL play in sparkling new facilities, the NFL had such success with its Pro Bowl last season that it’s bringing back a reinvented version of it in February, and Formula 1 is returning to the Las Vegas Strip for the first time since 1982 next summer.

The other Final Four sites chosen Tuesday have a history of hosting the men’s basketball championship.

Ford Field was the site of the 2009 tournament, when 72,922 fans packed the home of the Detroit Lions to watch North Carolina beat Michigan State. AT&T Stadium will also get its second Final Four after hosting it in 2014, when Connecticut beat Kentucky before a crowd of 79,238 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Lucas Oil Stadium has hosted the Final Four six times in the past 25 years, including the 2021 event, when the entire NCAA Tournament was conducted in front of a limited number of fans at venues scattered across Indiana. When it hosts the Final Four in 2029, Indianapolis will tie Kansas City for the most times conducting the title game with 10 apiece.

“It’s been said many times about how coaches, players, fans and media love coming to the Final Four in Indianapolis, but I don’t think you can overstate just how much everyone enjoys their experience when they go,” Reynolds said. “The people not only embrace major events, but they don’t take a single thing for granted.”

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AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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              FILE - Fans cheer as the Oakland Raiders announce their fourth round draft pick during an NFL football draft event in Las Vegas, April 29, 2017.  Las Vegas oddsmakers had argued for years that sports betting is easier to monitor where it's legal and regulated. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
            
              UCLA's Adem Bona, left, fouls Baylor's Dale Bonner during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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NCAA awards Final Four to Las Vegas for first time