Gannon awarded NCAA finals

The NCAA has awarded Gannon University the 2014 Division II women’s basketball championship. Erie Insurance Arena will host the national quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game in March 2014.

School officials made the announcement Thursday at a press conference inside the board room of Gannon’s Old Main.

“It was not just a Gannon effort, it was a group effort made by many people who care about the city of Erie and Gannon University,” Gannon President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said to a standing-room-only crowd.

Taylor said the bid was a collective effort among Gannon, the City of Erie, Erie County, the Erie County Convention Center Authority and VisitErie.

Gannon athletic director Mark Richard said what started with a conversation with women’s basketball coach Cleve Wright two years ago was confirmed Wednesday afternoon in the form of a phone call.

“When we drove down to St. Joseph, Mo., (for the Elite Eight) in 2010, we saw the crowds that it brought,” Richards said. “Coach said, ‘Why can’t this be held in Erie?’”

Erie Insurance arena is currently undergoing a $42 million renovation that will add 2,000 seats, bringing the setting’s capacity to about 6,700.

Construction on the first phase of the arena’s renovation was recently completed. The renovation is set to be entirely completed in October 2013.

“Erie Insurance Arena will be done in 2014 — that was a concern,” Casey Wells, executive director of the Erie County Convention Center Authority said to a laugh Thursday.

Richard said he did receive a follow-up call from the NCAA at one point in the process to confirm the renovation will be completed.

Richard said they began working on a bid in July, during which time he met with area leaders to plan the proposal. Erie mayor Joe Sinnott wrote a letter to the NCAA on behalf of the bid.

On Thursday, Sinnott touted the economic and tourism effect the tournament will have on the area.

“Erie will get national exposure,” he said. “With the games on ESPN, people will be able to bits and pieces of the area.”

It will mark the first time a basketball championship is held in Erie. Gannon has previously hosted regional tournament games, most recently before sellout crowds in 2010.

Mercyhurst University hosted the Division I women’s hockey Frozen Four at the then Tullio Arena in March 2011.

Wright said he was happy with the announcement.

“I have to compliment the NCAA on a wise decision.”

The Knights, who finished the 2011-12 season with a record of 22-7, are ranked 15th in the USA Today Sports/ESPN preseason coaches poll. They will begin their season at the Disney Tip-Off Classic this weekend in Anaheim.

Freshman Morgan Neighbors said she was happy about the news

“We’re very excited about it — we’re looking forward to it but at the same time we’re trying to stay focused on this year first,” she said.

This season’s championship will be held in San Antonio for the second consecutive year in March.



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