HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Big things are ahead

The Final Four in 2016 was a huge success. Courtesy photo

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

A new year and a few more things that could have Houston sports fans celebrating.

Yes, we’re just a little more than month away from the inaugural star-studded Houston Sports Awards Feb 8 at the Hilton Americas and more than excited, but we’re talking longer term here.

Sometime this summer, the NCAA will determine the cities that will host the Men’s Final Four from 2023-2026 and the Women’s Final Four from 2021-2024 and, yes, Houston is in the running for both.

Doug Hall, Vice President of Special Projects for the Houston Sports Authority, said the group submitted the Men’s Final Four bids in mid-December and is putting the finishing touches on the Women’s Final Four bid, due this spring.

Houston drew great reviews as host for the 2011 and 2016 Men’s Final Fours, but, despite several bids, has never been selected to host a Women’s Final Four. They are, without question, different events.

The men’s event is a stadium event that draws incredible crowds. Hall estimates there are only about a dozen cities in the country that have the facilities to host the men.

The women’s event is smaller, more of an arena event and opens up many more potential host cities. Hall said the proposal would make Toyota Center available for the event.

The 2016 Final Four Championship game came down to Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer that gave Villanova a 77-74 win over North Carolina. It was Villanova’s first national title since 1985.

At the time, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, calls the game “one of the best national championship games in tournament history.” The event attendance total was 149,845 – at the time, the second highest attendance in Men’s Final Four history. The championship game drew 74,340, also, at the time, the second-highest in championship game history.

The 2017 Final Four in Phoenix pushed both those numbers to third on the all-time list, but with the scope of the event changing annually, it is no surprise.

“We certainly have built on the success of the 2011 and 2016 Men’s Final Fours, but part of our proposal is toward the future,’’ Hall said. “The tournament continues to evolve. It’s a long way away and we expect that it will grow in size and scope.’’

Gavitt also noted Houston “showed the teams and fans Southern hospitality and put on terrific fan events, including youth clinics, the March Madness Music Festival and the Final Four Fan Fest.”

You can expect Houston to keep looking forward – it’s what made the 2017 Final Four special and Super Bowl LI one of the best ever.

Like Hall said, it’s all evolving. And if Houston manages to land one or both of the events? By 2021-2026, those events will look different than 2018 events.

Houston will be ready.

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All 3 major sports teams in Houston appear to be in good hands.Composite image by Jack Brame.

Houston is a strange sports town, professionally speaking. Football is the undisputed king. That's evidenced by the undying love fans show the Texans. Baseball is second, even though the Astros most recently gave the city a title and have given them a consistent winner to cheer for since 2015. Basketball is a clear third, since fans won't show up to a Rockets' playoff game until after the game has started.

At one point, all three teams were competitive and provided the city with a good deal of excitement. They also had competent general managers, though not all at once. The Texans had Rick Smith, who some say was hit or miss, but he was by far the team’s best GM in their history. The measuring stick isn’t very high, but Smith normally hit on 1st rounders. Jeff Luhnow was in charge of the turnaround for the Astros. His work environment may have been contentious according to rumors, but he brought the city a World Series and built a consistent contender. Daryl Morey may have left a hot mess, but the Rockets were always in the playoffs. He was able to keep a winning team, while reshaping the roster.

Fast-forward to today, and the city has a competent GM in every major pro sports team at the same time. James Click has kept the Astros on the winning track. While the penalties for the sign stealing scandal were hefty, he’s managed to make some shrewd moves. Signing Yordan Alvarez before he hit arbitration and free agency was huge! If he can get Kyle Tucker locked up as well, he’s definitely on the right track. Not going crazy over losing key guys and trusting his process has paid off handsomely so far.

Rafael Stone has had the best luck of all. It started very rocky for him by having to deal James Harden and Russell Westbrook at the beginning of his tenure. The return on investment was initially laughed at and thought to be pennies on the dollar.

Considering they drafted four 19-year-olds last draft (headlined by Jalen Green who looks like the real deal), taking a chance on Kevin Porter Jr, landing Jabari Smith Jr in this draft (Tari Eason not to be forgotten), and the inevitable collapse of the Nets, I think Stone has done well for himself. He may not have had the ideal background for the job (he was a lawyer by trade), he’s done well so far in trying to build this team back into a contender. If these kids develop and grow together, I think they can be what Boston and Golden State have been: a homegrown team contending year in and year out.

Nick Caserio of the Texans had perhaps the tallest mountain to climb. The quarterback position is the most important. He inherited one of the best young QBs in the league, but he also inherited his desire to leave and his alleged bizarre fetish that led to civil lawsuits. Some thought the haul he got was fair, while others thought it wasn’t enough. Did I mention his predecessor left the team in cap hell? Through it all, Caserio has managed to turn this team around and has them headed in the right direction. If Davis Mills proves to be a competent QB, that’ll be HUGE! However, the draft capital they have moving forward will help them draft or trade for their franchise QB if Mills isn’t the guy.

While the Astros are the only team currently in contention, the Rockets and Texans are looking like they may not be too far behind if things continue going their way. I’d LOVE to have a sit-down with all three and talk about philosophy and strategy! Houston sports are in good hands with these guys. Here’s to hoping they keep it going!

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