As Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake works toward its Friday afternoon opener at Texas A&M in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and league teams Northern Iowa and Missouri State get set for the WNIT, Patty Viverito is also preparing for the future.
The senior associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley said following the conclusion of the conference tournament on Sunday at the TaxSlayer Center that “Hoops in the Heartland has found a home court in the Quad-Cities.’’
This year’s four-day, 10-team tournament was the third hosted at the Moline arena and Viverito labeled it the most successful of an event which continues to grow.
“The thing that has been different here is that each year things have gotten better. Sometimes when you go into a community, things are great the first year and then it becomes just business as usual,’’ Viverito said.
“In the Quad-Cities, we’ve found a place which welcomes our teams, our fans and we are working with local organizers who want to help us make our tournament better each and every year. I can see this becoming a long-term home for our tourney. We’ve found something special here.’’
Following a three-year initial agreement, the Missouri Valley has already exercised the first of two one-year options to keep Hoops in the Heartland in the Quad-Cities in 2019.
Questions about state funding dollars provided to the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau from the state of Illinois have put any further extensions on hold for now, but Viverito made it clear that the Missouri Valley wants to continue the relationship.
The Missouri Valley tournament is one of six at the NCAA Division I level for women’s basketball teams that is contested at a neutral site, joining the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Pac-12 in determining its automatic qualifier for the NCAA tourney on neutral ground.
“This is where we want to be,’’ Viverito said, adding, “The support for our tourney has continued to grow each year.’’
Attendance has shown modest growth in the three years the tournament has been held in the Quad-Cities, increasing from 8,129 in 2016 to 8,313 a year ago and 8,435 over the five sessions last weekend.
Sunday’s championship game between Drake and UNI drew a crowd of 2,169, the fifth-largest crowd for a session since the Missouri Valley shifted to neutral sites for its tournament in 2008.
Since moving the event to Moline in 2016, it has attracted five of its seven-largest crowds including this year’s semifinal and championship sessions.
Joe Taylor, president and CEO of the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he believes the tournament is becoming part of the sports fabric of the community.
“The tournament has become part of the Quad-Cities and the Quad-Cities has become part of the tournament,’’ Taylor said. “That is what we envisioned and hoped for when the Missouri Valley first came to town and I see the potential for continued growth, which is exciting.’’
Viverito said a celebration brunch recognizing 25 years of women’s basketball in the conference held prior to Friday’s games brought a number of first-time visitors to the Quad-Cities for the tournament.
“It couldn’t have worked out better,’’ she said. “We heard so many comments about how welcoming people were and that really set a tone for a great weekend.’’