Alabama and Auburn have played basketball games at the Von Braun Center, and both have faced each other in baseball at Joe Davis Stadium.
But while the sport will be different, the stakes will be a lot higher when the Southeastern Conference comes back to town when the gymnastics championships will unfold at the VBC’s Propst Arena on March 20.
The tournament was relocated from New Orleans because of COVID-19 concerns. With crowd-spacing part of the crowd equation, the conference didn’t see a need to rent the spacious Smoothie King Center. Propst Arena has seating for 6,000.
Once the SEC decided to move the championships from the Big Easy, one of the first calls that went out was to David Knight of the marketing agency Knight Eady. The Birmingham agency has worked with Huntsville brokers in the past, including for the Korn Tour’s Huntsville Championship that was cancelled last year and will tee off for the first time the week of April 26-May 2 at The Ledges.
Knight said a tour de force trio of the Huntsville Sports Commission, the Huntsville Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the VBC made a strong bid and he wanted to “brag’’ on them.
“Those different groups of people really came together and made a strong pitch,’’ Knight said. “Ultimately, the SEC and the institutions selected Huntsville to be the site of this year’s championships.’’
Huntsville had an ace in the hole in Knight. He worked for the SEC for nine years until 2013 before he started his marketing agency. One of his roles was to work and even manage the gymnastics championships.
“We made it a priority to have gymnastics as one of our kinds of events or sports that we would conduct as a company,’’ he said. “So the the exciting thing about it is we’re hosting elite gymnastics in Huntsville.’’
Only eight of the league’s 14 members will bring teams: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Missouri. But all eight are among the top 25 in the nation, including No. 1 Florida and No. 2 LSU.
The championships were cancelled last year because of COVID-19. Prior to that, LSU won three straight titles, the last coming in front of over 10,000 fans in New Orleans.
“We enjoyed an electric environment with an SEC-record crowd in New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center when it hosted this event in 2019 and we look forward to returning there when we can provide our student-athletes a similar experience in the future,’’ SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “A geographically central location is appropriate in the current COVID-19 environment. We appreciate the support from the Huntsville community and the Von Braun Center to provide an excellent venue for this year’s Championship.’’
COVID-19 protocols will be in place as far as controlled entrances, distancing and masking.
“We are honored to step up and host the SEC Gymnastics Championships in Huntsville,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “We promise participants will find a high-caliber venue and a welcoming community, and we look forward to seeing this outstanding competition in the Rocket City.’’
In the current www.roadtonationals.com rankings, Florida is No. 1, LSU No. 2, Arkansas No. 5, Alabama No. 6, Georgia No. 12, Kentucky No. 15, Auburn No. 19 and Missouri No. 25.