When the NCAA announced where the 2019-22 wrestling national tournaments would be for each division, the 2020 site in Minneapolis, Minnesota caught the eye of many. While the city itself is not a big surprise, the venue will be something new. US Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, will become the largest venue ever to host the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. With a seating capacity over 65,000 in football configuration, there were immediate concerns from some fans about how far they might be from the action. There were fears of a setup like the artists rendering of a potential Final Four setup for 2019, seen here, with the wrestling mats where the basketball court is and most fans a long way from the action.
Hearing these concerns, I reached out to Anthony Holman at the NCAA and Minnesota Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom McGinnis, who was a part of the group that worked on the bid to bring the tournament to Minneapolis, to see what their plans were in that regard. Though the stadium configuration isn’t set in stone at this point, both men assured me that there was no intent to sell 60,000 tickets for the tournament and the configuration that we ultimately see in 2020 will feature a seating capacity closer to 30,000. Holman made it clear that the setup would not look like a Final Four setup, but more like a basketball Regional where the court is located at one end and the seating is configured in a horseshoe. He envisioned a likely configuration with wrestling mats running out from the end zone to somewhere around the 50-yard line.
McGinnis emphasized that this is a very new, state of the art facility that gives the hosts a lot of flexibility when it comes to ensuring a quality fan experience. Minnesota will host a basketball game at US Bank Stadium this December which could give us some idea of what the setup will ultimately look like. The good news is that the team that put together the proposal, which included representatives from the Minnesota athletic department, Sports Minneapolis, and US Bank Stadium staff, reached out to coaching staffs as well as other venues to ensure that sight lines and the overall fan experience are comparable to what we’ve seen at past tournaments.
There are some facets of running the tournament in a football stadium that are inherently positive. With the arena setup to only use part of the football field for competition, there will be plenty of space for practice mats a short walk away. McGinnis told me that is the plan which would be a big upgrade from having them in another building in St. Louis. The location of the fan fest is still up in the air, however. With the need to clear the arena between sessions, having it inside US Bank Stadium as well would be a logistical problem.
One other interesting tidbit I gleaned from speaking with McGinnis is that the basketball venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul did not meet the bid specifications released by the NCAA last year. That meant US Bank Stadium had to be the venue if the NCAA tournament was to return to Minneapolis. As the event has expanded over the years, more and more venues have fallen by the wayside. What used to be a tournament held on college campuses is now unavailable to some professional sports arenas. If the experiment in Minneapolis is successful, it would open up another class of potential venues.
Regardless of how you think it will play out, the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships will be one to watch both on the mat and off it. While the full capacity of US Bank Stadium will not come into play, the potential for record-breaking attendance is there and, if the configuration features anywhere near 30,000 seats, it would be a disappointment if those records aren’t shattered. There may come a day when we routinely trek to football stadiums for those three days in March. If that comes to pass, it will have all started here.