The Commonwealth of Virginia has a population of more than 8 million, a number that’s steadily climbed for decades and ranks 12th in the United States. There are three metro areas with more than a million residents, five with more than a quarter million and 10 greater than 100,000.
The state is home to two ACC schools along with 12 other Division I athletic programs. Yet, nowhere within the state’s borders is there an arena up to the standards to host an NCAA men’s basketball regional or the ACC Tournament.
That could be about to change in a big way.
For years, major concert tours and basketball tournaments have skipped over Virginia’s largest cities and their dilapidated or non-existent coliseums. Minor league hockey and arena football franchises have come and gone. Pro basketball in the state hasn’t really been an option since the ABA’s Virginia Squires folded.
Meanwhile, in neighboring North Carolina, seemingly every city with more than one 10-story building has a venue suitable for big events. That’s why Charlotte has the NBA and Raleigh has the NHL. It’s why Greensboro frequently hosts the ACC Tournament and why all three, along with Winston-Salem, have kept the NCAA Tournament repeatedly coming back to the Old Line State.
But even when the NCAA and ACC pulled events from North Carolina thanks to the controversial HB2, or Bathroom Bill, Virginia picking up the slack was never an option.
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia and John Paul Jones Arena, which has turned into one of the nation’s finest concert venues. But with a seating capacity of about 14,600, it’s just a little too small for the NCAA men’s tournament and the ACC isn’t likely to play its tourney on one team’s home floor.
But with the impending building boom, Virginia programs might start enjoying the same kind of quasi-homecourt advantage in the postseason Duke and North Carolina have come to expect with routine placement in Charlotte or Greensboro.
With Virginia, Virginia Tech and VCU looking like solid NCAA Tournament contenders for the foreseeable future, that could be huge news. Response to college basketball tournaments in Washington DC has been lukewarm for the most part. But you can bet Virginia schools would love to be able to play conference tournaments or early rounds of the NCAA Tournament closer to home, in cities where their alumni and fans make up the majority of the population.
The proposed Virginia Beach arena is supposed to seat more than 18,000, an ideal size for attracting postseason college hoops. Fewer details are available about the Richmond plan, which only recently came to light. But it’s headed by Dominion Energy, a major power player in the region which has already had a hand in building new entertainment venues.
You can bet that if Richmond replaces it’s barely functional Coliseum, it will build large enough to attract these events. Officials in the state capital are tired of losing entertainment dollars to Charlottesville and worried that new venues in the Hampton Roads area will only make it worse.
Right now Cavaliers and Hokies fans only half jokingly complain about how often the ACC Tournament is played in Greensboro and how UNC might play NCAA Tournament games in Charlotte one year and Raleigh the next.
But you can bet nobody in Charlottesville nor Blacksburg will complain if 10 years from now, their team has a Final Four run begin with an ACC Tournament title in Virginia Beach, followed by NCAA Tournament games in Richmond.