Connecticut wasn't the only winner in the women's national championship Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The city of Nashville also scored a major victory by pulling off its first Final Four with great success, according to the key individuals involved, and likely took a big step toward securing the return of the event.
"I'm going to put my plug in for Nashville to get to host again, that's for sure," said Carolayne Henry, committee chairwoman of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee and senior associate commissioner of the Mountain West Conference. "If we could come back here, I think it would be a great opportunity for us. I really like it here, and I think everyone else does, too."
"It won't be the last time (Nashville hosts the Final Four)," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "I know there were some circumstances why they haven't been able to have one here earlier, but now that you've got the arena, you've got the hotels, you've got all you need. … It's just perfect."
Nashville is among seven finalists for the opportunity to serve as host during one of the years in the next open cycle, which is from 2017-2020. The others are Columbus, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
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Each city will send representatives to the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis over the next few months, and NCAA representatives will visit each city.
The four hosts will be announced in November.
"We will have them back," said Mayor Karl Dean. "I don't know when, but they will be back here. We've been very happy with it. Obviously, I won't be mayor those years, but I think it's been a great thing for the city and we should pursue it again. … We would love to see Nashville be in a group of cities that will get them on a regular basis."
Henry said the components she liked most were that Bridgestone Arena was within walking distance of so many hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues along with the manner in which Nashvillians welcomed the event.
"Everything has been incredible," Henry said. "And when I say everything I mean everything from the setup to the hotels to the venues and especially to the citizens and the people of Nashville. You walk in a business and you get this warm welcoming feeling. Everyone is like, 'Are you here for the Final Four? Welcome to Nashville.' That has been so great."
Auriemma said Huskies fans let him know from the first day they arrived how much they enjoyed the experience.
"I could probably count 50 people who traveled down here with us that don't want to go home," he said. "They said they want to move down here. The setting was just great. It's not overwhelming, not a place you're going to get lost in. You don't have to travel around for a half-hour or 40 minutes to go find stuff. It's all right there, and the people have been absolutely amazing, as you knew they would. This town has a great reputation."
Gary Alexander, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Nashville Sports Council, solicited reaction from NCAA representatives, fans and the community along with hotel and restaurant personnel, and said he has yet to hear a negative comment.
"It just went extremely well. All the feedback that we're getting from the fans, from the NCAA, is very positive," Alexander said. "There was such an excitement in the community. Downtown was just absolutely jammed after the games."
Alexander estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 visitors came to town during the event.
Connecticut fan Rocky Carl Anderson said he enjoyed his time at the games and away from them.
"This is a party town; I can tell you straight up, this is a party town," said Anderson, who is from Plainville, Conn., and has been to all eight Final Fours Connecticut has been in since 2004 and wore pins in his white straw hat from each site. "With all the honky-tonks and everything else on Broadway; Nashville has a Broadway, too, just like New York."
Anderson said he would return to Nashville in the Final Four comes back and the Huskies make it.
"The people are nice and everything is right here around the arena," Anderson said. "I would love to see the Final Four come back here. But after about five good days here you've got to get away from it; that's a little too much partying."
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Notre Dame fans also had a good time.
"It's been great; I've loved being here," said Autumn Nelson, 23, a recent graduate of St. Mary's College, which is on the Notre Dame campus. "It's a very happening kind of place."
Nelson and her friends stayed at the Renaissance Hotel downtown.
"We haven't even had to take a cab anywhere," Nelson said. "We've shopped around, been to a couple of bars and had no trouble finding something to eat. The restaurants have been open late so we were able to celebrate after the games."
Reaction from fans such as Nelson bodes well for Nashville's hopes of earning a second bid, said NCAA associate director Rick Nixon.
"Fan reaction is a big factor, and the convenience issue was something we watched closely," Nixon said. "We loved the fact that our fans could come here by basically taking a cab from the airport and not have to rely on any additional transportation if they didn't want to. There was so much that was offered in terms of entertainment, Broadway and everything that goes with it."
The Ohio Valley Conference served as the official host of the event, and commissioner Beth DeBauche said she was confident it did the best job that could be done.
"It far exceeded our expectations, and we had really high expectations," DeBauche said. "We are elated for what we we're been able to do. This is a cherished event for the NCAA. We tried to take good care of it, and we think that we were able to do that.
"We wanted to make sure it was the best Final Four that's ever been held for the women. We hope we were able to accomplish that. If we were able to do that the rest just falls into place thereafter (for returning)."
Prior to the tournament, tourism industry leaders estimated there would be an economic impact of $20 million-$25 million on the city.
Those figures will be checked in the next few weeks, according to Deana Ivey, chief marketing officer for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and likely will be used as part of the city's pitch to get a second bid.
"We won't know until after all the tax collections come in and we get the reports from the hotels and restaurants and how well they did," Ivey said. "We will look at all of that and the expenses and kind of weigh it for the rebidding."
Greg Adkins, CEO and president of the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association, said everyone associated with his group provided positive reports during the tournament.
"Everybody was packed the last few days," Adkins said. "There's been a lot of good spending and I'm hearing good things from a lot of the hoteliers and restaurateurs. I was downtown a lot during the event, and the response was just outstanding."
Adkins said the city could benefit in terms of tourism after hosting the Final Four.
"You're getting a lot of folks who have never come to Nashville before because they're sports fanatics and they go to the Women's Final Four," Adkins said. "Several people I've talked to have said, 'Oh yeah, I'm coming back. We love it here.' And the reason why they love it is there is a lot to do, it's easy to get to the arena, it's easy to get downtown, and they say that people are very genuine and friendly."
Adkins said he also received favorable responses from restaurants in East Nashville and restaurants and hotels in the West End area.
Tony Phillips, general manager of Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, said having the Notre Dame team and official travel party stay in his facility was beneficial.
"We were full for more than a week," Phillips said. "We had a bunch of Fighting Irish fans in the hotel because the team was here, but even if that hadn't been the case we saw some UConn fans in the house and just all kinds of sports fans in our bar watching the games. I would have to say for the businesses and the restaurants it's been fantastic."