Omaha might host a lot more excellent college volleyball in April than just the NCAA Final Four.
The CHI Health Center already has been selected as the site of the Final Four, scheduled for April 22 and 24. But now there’s chatter that all 48 teams in the tournament might play their matches in Omaha in a coronavirus “bubble.”
Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook alluded to that possibility at a press conference about 10 days ago.
“I’m still not sure it’s 100%, but I think we’re pretty close to Omaha hosting, and maybe the whole thing, I’ve heard,” he said.
The NCAA has gone to the bubble concept — one city or area for an entire tournament — for the men’s basketball tourney, and probably the women’s tournament as well, to limit travel and contain the coronavirus.
Indiana has been selected for the men, and the NCAA said last week that the San Antonio area is under consideration for the women’s tourney.
The NCAA, the Nebraska athletic department and other sources had little more to say about the NCAA’s intentions.
“There are a lot of different options being discussed” for the women’s volleyball tournament, Lauren McLaughlin of the NCAA said in an email. Changes in the way the tourney is handled would have to go through NCAA leadership, she said.
Another NCAA spokeswoman, Kristin Fasbender, said the organization will see how the season and pandemic unfold, and then make decisions about the tournament.
Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority spokeswoman Kristyna Engdahl said MECA and NCAA officials have discussed the possibility of Omaha hosting more than the Final Four.
MECA oversees the CHI Health Center, the city’s convention center and arena. Engdahl said the facility would be available for competition in April but offered little more information.
The Husker volleyball team, typically among the best in the nation, has won the NCAA title five times. Omaha has hosted the Final Four three times.
Deborah Ward, interim executive director of Visit Omaha, said the city would have no problem with hotel space.
“We know that the possibility of hosting that bubble event has been discussed, but there’s no final word yet,” she said Wednesday.
Ward said Omaha has experience with the bubble concept. Thirty-eight NCHC hockey games were held in Omaha in December to start the conference’s season.
Doug Parrott, public relations consultant for the Omaha Sports Commission, noted that Omaha also has experience hosting major sports events such as the Olympic Swim Trials and the College World Series.
“Things could probably be put together pretty quickly,” said Parrott. He said he had no information on the volleyball tournament.
University of Nebraska at Omaha Athletic Director Trev Alberts said coaches and college sports officials want the athletes to have the chance to compete.
“I think there’s a lot of discussions,” he said Tuesday. “You hear rumors, you hear thinking, you hear, ‘What about this?’ “
World-Herald staff writers Tom Shatel and Jon Nyatawa contributed to this report.
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