NCAA West Regionals at PLNU: Worth the hassle?

PLNU’s Golden Gymnasium; Photo by Wikimedia Commons, CCL

The 2022-23 Point Loma Nazarene University Sea Lions men’s basketball team will go down as one of the best in school history, finishing with a 29-4 regular season record, a 20-0 conference record and a PacWest conference championship to go with it. However, with great power comes great responsibility. By virtue of finishing the season ranked No. 1 in the Division II NCAA West Region, the Sea Lions were given the opportunity to host the Western Region of the Division II NCAA tournament. 

Much like organizing a championship basketball team, the athletic department at PLNU had to juggle multiple factors, such as student pay and security, to achieve the desired result. 

Similar to Homecoming, an event as large as the NCAA tournament can be expected to draw sold-out crowds. PLNU’s Golden Gymnasium’s capacity tops out at around 1,750, so accommodations such as security are necessary.  

PLNU Assistant Athletic Director for Event Operations Jordan Courneya explained that although the West Regionals is a larger event, they have protocols in place that can be reused or adjusted to fit the needs of the NCAA tournament. 

“Thankfully, we host multiple events during the year that are near a sellout, like Homecoming, that allow us to duplicate the same protocols for a large tournament like the NCAA tournament,” he said. 

Such a complicated and large-scale event typically comes with its setbacks and tribulations, but Courneya said they were largely able to avoid any such problems. 

“There were some sad fans on championship Monday who were not able to get a ticket at the door because we had sold out already. Other than that, there were no setbacks,” he said. 

According to, about 60% of the Division II budget is used to support the 25 national championships they put on each year. This includes tournaments like the NCAA West Regionals, meaning that PLNU did not have to pay out of pocket to host. 

Courneya explained that the NCAA pays the students and staff who work the game, requiring records of who worked what to ensure they compensate the school properly.

“The NCAA pays for the expenses of the people who work the event. We are required to submit a budget of anticipated positions and hours prior to the event,” he said. 

Because of this, and the recyclable protocols in place on campus, the PLNU Athletic Department is able to avoid prioritizing the tournament over other sports that may need attention.

“Focusing on the NCAA tournament does not cause us to prioritize,” Courneya said. “We still dedicate the same resources, time and effort to our other sports that are competing during the same time. For example, we hosted a track meet the same day as the semi-finals of the basketball tournament.”

PLNU Senior Associate Athletic Director Brian Thornton echoed these sentiments, stating that because of the school’s recent athletic success they are more prepared for similar type of work.

“We actually expect to host these events for every sport, every year, and plan for that in advance,” he said, “Over the past few years we have hosted NCAA regionals in basketball, baseball and soccer and been very close in several other sports. In fact, we have had two teams in the past four years play in the national championship game, men’s basketball in 2019 and baseball in 2022.”

In terms of the financial aspect and what provides PLNU the incentive to put so much time and effort into such an event, Thornton said that there is a small amount of revenue the school earns, but the main kicker is the amount of exposure hosting provides. 

“There is some residual revenue around concessions, but ticket, broadcast sponsorship and merchandise revenue all go directly to the NCAA,” he said. “The immediate value comes from the immense amount of exposure the university receives which benefits the school on so many levels, some of which can be financial and others that simply make it fun to be a PLNU student or alum.” 

Exact financial statements and records kept by the NCAA were unable to be recovered, with Thornton explaining that the university does not keep such documentation. 

“That is all managed and tracked by the NCAA and not available,” he said. 

Thornton emphasized the impact on recruiting, donations and future ticket sales, explaining that the event has a positive overall impact on the school. 

“Our fans and the energy at games has been amazing! In terms of athletics, hosting a NCAA Regional obviously has a positive impact on recruiting for all of our teams, not just the one hosting the event,” he said. “It also translates into increased ticket sales at future events as well as increased donor and corporate support.”

An article published by Forbes reiterates Thornton’s claims. In the article, Harvard Business School assistant professor of marketing Doug J. Chung explained that a major form of advertising for many schools comes through athletics. 

“The primary form of mass media advertising by academic institutions in the United States is, arguably, through their athletic programs,” Chung said. 

Second-year psychology major Anthony Gutierrez said he felt as though the opportunity to host was something that was an important step toward getting PLNU into the national spotlight. 

“I think it was pretty amazing really,” he said, “It puts us on the map as a school both for our athletics program as well as an academic institution.” 

The student body’s willingness to show up and show out demonstrated the pull an event of this caliber has, with 1,645 fans attending PLNU’s Sweet 16 game versus California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB). 

The tournament concluded with CSUSB earning the win over PLNU 89-83 in the Sweet 16. Despite the loss, those in the athletic department are looking forward to the increased ticket sales, national exposure and donor support stemming from the opportunity to host the NCAA Division II West Regionals.

Written By: Cade Cavin