Hoops in the Heartland has found a home in the Quad-Cities.
A contract extension announced Wednesday will keep the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline through at least 2021, and organizers want to grow on roots established over the first three years the tourney has been played in the Quad-Cities.
"When we announced in July of 2014 that we were moving our tournament to the Quad-Cities, it felt a little like we were moving into a new home," Missouri Valley senior associate commissioner Patty Viverito said.
Three tournaments later, Viverito said administrators at Missouri Valley institutions, the league’s coaches and players have found they really like the neighborhood as teams compete for the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tourney.
"The reviews we’ve received are that they love playing here. The coaches love it here, and they love the facility. The student-athletes love the way they are treated here," Viverito said. "The administrators like that we’ve developed a real partnership here and that we aren’t just renting a facility."
Viverito said that has happened through the cooperative efforts of the TaxSlayer Center, the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, the event’s hotel and hospitality partners and the conference.
"We’re thrilled to be coming back and back and back to the Quad-Cities," Viverito said. "We’re looking forward to growing our partnership and taking our tournament to the next level."
Viverito said that entails working to develop greater ties to the community, something she said Missouri Valley coaches have committed to help make happen.
TaxSlayer Center executive director Scott Mullen used his own family as an example of one way to accomplish that.
"The level of basketball being played is outstanding. With my own daughters involved in sports, having a chance for them to watch young women compete at such a high level in an exciting atmosphere, I think it’s something a lot of families in our community should take advantage of and attend," Mullen said. "It’s really a great event."
Viverito sees possibilities in connecting with youths throughout the region, and she said one of the league’s objectives will be to connect with young families who are part of a new generation of fans.
She expects a high level of competition within the conference this season as the 10 league teams combine to return 37 starters from a year ago as they work toward the 2019 tournament scheduled for March 14-17.
Future tournaments will be held in Moline on March 12-15, 2020 and March 11-14, 2021.
The event, which has seen attendance growth in each of its three years in the Quad-Cities, is one of just six NCAA Division I conference women’s basketball tournaments played at a neutral site.
The Missouri Valley tourney is the only one that isn’t held by one of the power-five conferences.
"Our tournament is a little unique in that way, and our coaches really like being able to play at a neutral site," Viverito said. "It’s something that is important to our coaches and something that is important to the sport in our conference."
Dave Herrell, the president and CEO of Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Missouri Valley tourney is an example of the type of event that his organization strives to bring to the Quad-Cities.
"Having this tournament in our community is a real feather in our cap. It’s a linchpin type of event that separates the Quad-Cities from other communities," Herrell said.
"To be able to create a memorable experience for the student-athletes who participate as well as for their coaches, administrators and fans, it’s a terrific opportunity, and we’re looking forward to continue to work with the Missouri Valley to make their event a real success."
That, Viverito said, is what brought the Missouri Valley tourney back to the Quad-Cities.
"We’ve found partners here who are invested in working with us to make our tournament a success," Viverto said. "It’s become a good home, and we can’t wait to have our teams back on the court here in March."