In a move that brings a third consecutive major men’s basketball championship to the District over the next four years, the Atlantic 10 Conference announced Thursday morning it would hold its conference tournament at Verizon Center in 2018.
The Atlantic 10, which includes George Washington and George Mason, has played its tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the past two seasons and will do so through 2016. In 2017, the tournament will move to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh before arriving in the nation’s capital for the first time the following year.
Verizon Center also is set to host the ACC tournament in 2016 and the Big Ten tournament in 2017. The venue, with a capacity of 18,277, has been the site of multiple men’s NCAA tournament games, most recently the East Region finals in 2013.
“We couldn’t be happier to have the A-10 select us and have the third of three great conferences right in a row,” said David Touhey, the senior vice president and general manager of Verizon Center. “We’ve had a great run of success with NCAA championships and don’t always have an opportunity to host a conference championship, and to get three in D.C. is pretty spectacular for any venue.”
Thursday’s announcement via conference call was of particular interest to officials, coaches and players at George Washington and George Mason. The Colonials’ home court of Smith Center is minutes from Verizon Center, and George Mason’s Patriot Center is roughly half an hour from the Penn Quarter area.
Last season the Colonials earned the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament in their third year under Coach Mike Lonergan. The Colonials advanced to the Atlantic 10 semifinals on the way to securing a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years. George Washington finished 24-9 for the second-most victories in program history, and Lonergan received a contract extension through 2020-2021.
“As we went through this process, that was always in the back of the mind of a little bit of a home-court advantage but also for the progress that we’ve made in our men’s basketball program,” GW Athletic Director Patrick Nero said. “Now for an opportunity to have this tournament in our back yard, we see it as great recognition of this community and how we support college basketball and a reward for our fans that have spend the last couple years traveling en masse to Brooklyn.”
The Patriots (11-20), meanwhile, were the 12th seed in last season’s Atlantic 10 tournament and lost to No. 13 seed Fordham, 70-67, in the first round. George Mason is coming off its inaugural season in the Atlantic 10 under third-year Coach Paul Hewitt.
The George Mason basketball community also has a particular affinity for Verizon Center given its place in the school’s athletic lore. The Patriots advanced to the 2006 Final Four, an improbable run capped by outlasting Connecticut, 86-84, in double overtime at Verizon Center in the East Region final.
“Obviously the history that we’ve had in the building in 2006 and what that meant certainly to this program and university, when the conversation started to come up, it was for very obvious reasons we began to get real excited,” said first-year George Mason Athletic Director Brad Edwards, who started at free safety for the Washington Redskins from 1991 through ’93. “It’s terrific news.”