Maddie Jones Arkansas

What Does It Take to Host an NCAA Regional?

For gymnastics fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year—postseason! Eight months of practices and competitions have led to this moment, but the regionals process doesn’t just begin when the competition starts. It’s a culminating moment of years of preparation from multiple people involved from the host university all the way up to the NCAA.

The process to host a regional starts with the submission of a bid. Before the bid can be submitted, the university must ensure its venue fits a specific list of criteria from the NCAA. The criteria range from emergency evacuation plans to required volunteers, space, and equipment. A venue must be a minimum of 26,500 square feet and have 6,000 permanent and/or temporary seats in order to be considered. The venue must provide eight total locker rooms—six for the athletes, one for judges, and one for male coaching staff. It also must be able to provide staff for the venue and anywhere from 60 to 75 volunteers. Those volunteers might be responsible for everything from setting up equipment to assisting judges during the competition. A media workroom, interview room, training areas, and hospitality rooms are required in each venue. The NCAA also lines out what it will be responsible for providing, most notably the judges and a meet referee.

If an institution believes it can meet all of the qualifications, it will fill out a bid application. The application asks for more specifics regarding how the university intends to meet the requirements set forth. That application is then submitted to the Women’s Gymnastics Sport Committee at the NCAA level. The committee is made up of coaches and administrators, one from each region. They review each application and make the final decision of who will be awarded the event. Because bids are handed out in four-year cycles, regional hosts have already been determined through 2026 thanks to this process. 

Hosting nine teams can get overwhelming for an institution very quickly. That’s where Noёl Couch comes in. As NCAA Assistant Director of Championships and Alliances, Couch is the primary point of contact for anything regarding postseason gymnastics. Since the start of the season, Couch has been on calls with all four regional hosts to work out every piece of logistics, from booking hotel rooms (through a new third-party company on location) to signage for each university. Couch even helps coordinate sideline products like Powerade and water for each host site, ensuring teams will be able to stay hydrated on the sidelines during the event.

However, things can change very quickly. Last season, a regional site changed a month before the competition, starting a scramble to determine which sites were eligible to be a replacement. It was one of the first things Couch faced in her new role at the NCAA, but it was something she felt she could handle thanks to the people surrounding her. “The NCAA staff supporting me, as well as the committee, were fantastic and [were] guiding me along [with] what decisions needed to be made and making sure I was asking all the right questions. It was certainly a full team effort,” Couch said.

That team effort started with the basics. Since the original host was in the South Central region, the committee determined that the new host needed to be from the same region, bringing the options down to nine institutions. The committee then returned to the universities who submitted a bid during the previous cycle, and that narrowed the list down further. Couch then reached out to those institutions to see who was able to host until it was determined who would be the replacement institution.

Once the venue is opened for regionals set up, each team’s staff gets to work. Selina Kirwan, director of Ritchie Center Events at the University of Denver, helps coordinate the schedule of every venue at the university, including Magness Arena. Knowing the venue has to be ready for 8 a.m. the Tuesday before regionals, Kirwan is one of hundreds involved in making sure Denver is ready to host the competition. She is a part of the planning committee at the university that oversees the logistics on its end. From providing at least five uniformed security officers to allocating 30 parking spots at regionals for personnel, Kirwan is the one who ensures that the NCAA’s guidelines are followed to the letter.

Kirwan also makes sure that days are factored in for loading in equipment and setting up due to the NCAA guidelines. Additional space has to be allocated for things that aren’t typically seen at a Denver home meet, such as athlete corrals and additional judges tables. There’s also the impact that hosting a regional competition has on other athletic events at the university that Kirwan must consider.

“When [we are] provided the event dates, Magness becomes an offline venue,” Kirwan said. “Therefore, [other university] programming must be shuffled to other venues within our facility in order to allow that programming to occur with as little impact as possible.” It’s a difficult job that can cause pressure for all involved. Denver head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart praises Kirwan, the staff, and the tournament directors for taking on an event of this magnitude and executing it to its fullest potential. 

“We were fully committed long ago [to host]. It’s a championship competition and our athletics staff] wants to make sure that the focus is on the athletes and their experience,” Kutcher-Rinehart said. “We want to showcase the teams and the sport and [give] the student-athletes that tremendous experience.”

While most would think that preparing to host might cause some shuffling of team schedules, Kutcher-Rinehart made sure to prepare her athletes for any potential changes starting in September. “That’s been planned out pretty much forever [based on] how many training days we have a week, what recovery days we have. For the most part, we’ll stick to a pretty consistent schedule.” Kutcher-Rinehart also noted that it’s nice not to have to travel and that having the ability to be flexible and adjust based on her athletes’ needs is a great part of hosting a regional championship.

As the regional competitions get ready to kick off this week, many fans and coaches are happy with the new format, as it allows more teams and individuals an opportunity to compete. Kutcher-Rinehart stated that while some may have concerns about certain aspects of the format, an incredible championship awaits fans who attend any of the regional competitions. “It’s an excitement for our community. I’ve been telling people [that] this is some of the best collegiate women’s gymnastics you’re going to see in the country and hopefully that brings a fan base.”

While improving the fan experience is a goal of Couch’s, her ultimate goal is to improve the experience of the student-athletes. “I think [these changes] will go a long way to continue to foster the growth of this sport and also highlight the amazing opportunity that these athletes have to be able to compete at the NCAA level.”

READ THIS NEXT: It Takes a Village—and a Lot of Heart—to Put on a Meet in the PMAC

Article by Savanna Whitten, additional reporting by Tara Graeve

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