By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001
TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Sports Commission has proposed the Ice Palace and Tropicana Field as potential sites for the SEC men's tournament in 2006 or 2008.
"I'm very pleased with the bids, and hopefully we'll be able to bring one home," new commission president Ross Bartow said.
The SEC also received bids from Atlanta (Georgia Dome and Philips Arena), New Orleans (Superdome), Nashville (Gaylord Entertainment Center) and Memphis (The Pyramid). If form holds, the league's athletic directors will opt for their perennial home, the Georgia Dome, in 2007 and 2008, leaving 2006 as the best possibility for the Tampa Bay area and the other suitors.
In recent years the SEC has held the tournament in Atlanta two years, somewhere else for a year then back in Atlanta for two. The tournament will be in Atlanta in 2004 and '05.
SEC associate commissioner Brad Davis, after a whirlwind visit to the Tampa Bay area Tuesday, called the Ice Palace "an outstanding facility." He particularly liked that the Tampa Convention Center and numerous hotels are nearby, a drawback for the Trop.
A plus for Tropicana, besides hosting the 1999 Final Four without a hitch and the possibility for accommodating 34,000 fans (about 12,000 more than Ice Palace), is that SEC coaches find it advantageous to play in domes. "That's why Tampa's getting a serious look this time, because it has two very viable options," Davis said.
The problems the facilities share are history and location. The SEC last ventured out of its traditional territory in 1990, coming to Orlando. With Kentucky ineligible for the tournament and Florida limping to a 7-21 record, attendance was dismal.
"I think there's baggage there," Davis said. "There's some concerns with being so far from the center of the conference and concerns with how well Florida will support college basketball. But times change, and I think Tampa Bay has show an ability to host major events on a grand scale." Davis will make a presentation at the league's annual meeting next week in Destin. He said it is likely the athletic directors will pare the list, and he expects a decision in August.