HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas – Following the success of the 2009 and 2010 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Championships at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas the league office and the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau announced a three year extension today. The extension will ensure that the Sun Belt Conference's Men's and Women's Basketball Championships will be played in Hot Springs through 2014.
"This an exciting time for the Sun Belt Conference as we have agreed to a new term to have our basketball tournament at a neutral site for another three seasons," said Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters. "Our fans, administrators, coaches and student-athletes have been provided with a great basketball tournament over the last two years in Hot Springs and the event will keep getting bigger and better thanks to our extension."
The 2011 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Championships will be held March 5-8 in Hot Springs and is the final year of the original agreement. The three year extension will be effective for 2012 with competition taking place March 3-6.
"We are very excited to be hosting the Sun Belt Conference Basketball Championships for three additional seasons," said Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Steve Arrison. "The past two tournaments have been great for our facility and the city of Hot Springs. I know that the next four championships will be a great experience for everyone."
Since the men's and women's tournaments have been played in Hot Springs the league's women's championship has seen a new all-time total attendance high while the men's tournament saw higher total attendance numbers than any of the five previous tournaments.
Last year's championship marked the first year of a new format that brought all teams to the city of Hot Springs as games were contested on two courts for the first two days of the tournament. The league will continue to use this format for upcoming championships. A total of eight games are contested the first day with four each being played on the Summit Arena Court and the Convention Center Court. Eight games follow on the second day utilizing both courts for the quarterfinals. Semifinal games as well as the men's and women's championship games are played in Summit Arena.
The 2011 tournament will also be played with the top two seeds from each division receiving byes. Teams will be seeded by their divisional finish and the tournament bracket will also be cross-pollinated so that East-West Division matchups are assured for the first round games. East-West Division matchups will be featured should the higher seed win each contest.
Fans that have experienced the league's championships in the past two years have also been treated to a number of exciting functions surrounding the tournament. These events will continue to be featured in the coming years. The league will continue to host its annual Pep Band Spectacular that kicks-off the celebration on the eve before the tournament. The league will also continue to host the "Drive to the Summit" on the morning of the first round. The Drive to the Summit is an event open to elementary and middle school children who dribble basketballs through a quarter mile stretch of downtown Hot Springs. Additionally, the league will continue to host its annual Academic Summit in Hot Springs as well as an Alumni Reception Sunday morning.
Sun Belt Conference President and Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr.
"Hot Springs has been a superb host for the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Hot Springs provides quality facilities, entertainment options for our fans and unequalled hospitality-- extended by a cadre of wonderful volunteers! The opportunity to play both the men's and women's tournaments at the same site simultaneously has added to the value of the experience. Our member institutions look forward to another great tournament in a great setting."
Middle Tennessee President Dr. Sidney McPhee
"The city of Hot Springs has opened its arms to Sun Belt Conference basketball and provided a great home for the league. The experience for our student-athletes and fans has been phenomenal so an extension is definitely the right move for the Sun Belt Conference. We look forward to continuing our relationship with the community and building on what has become a great environment for March Madness."
North Texas Head Men's Basketball Coach Johnny Jones
"I think Hot Springs has been a great venue for the Sun Belt tournament the last few years. Its great location and attractions have drawn more fans to the tournament, which makes it more exciting for everyone."
Arkansas State Athletic Director Dr. Dean Lee
"I think having the conference tournament in Hot Spring for the future is wonderful news. The chamber and the city of Hot Springs has done such a fabulous job of hosting this event - fans from any of our schools who have attended realize how fabulous this event is."
UALR Head Coach Women's Basketball Coach Joe Foley
"I think is a great place to have it. The way they set it up last year with the men's and women's basketball teams was great. It allows all the fans from different schools to plan ahead. It is exciting for fans to be able to do things besides basketball in Hot Springs. I don't think any arena in the country could do that type of setup like Summit Arena does."