It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Gulf South Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Tournaments in Tupelo. Last year’s tournament featured some of the finest basketball ever seen in the state of Mississippi; this year’s regular season was the most competitive in a decade, so we expect more thrills and excitement. Best of all, you will see one men’s and one women’s team earn NCAA D-II National Championship Tournament bids!
For those of you who may be less familiar with the GSC, we are the NCAA’s largest (18 universities spread over six southeastern states) playing conference. Our members compete for 13 championships: men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, cross country, tennis, women’s softball and volleyball and men’s golf, baseball and football. All told, the GSC owns 33 national championships, the most recent being Delta State University’s 2000 football title.
Basketball is a key sport in the GSC. Our women’s basketball heritage is among the richest in the country. Delta State’s Lady Statesmen are legendary in Division II, while Arkansas Tech’s Golden Suns carved out a rich tradition in the NAIA before joining the GSC and NCAA D-II. It is indeed unusual for an NCAA Women’s Elite Eight to take place without a GSC team. In fact, GSC team have reached that level for six straight years and 13 of the last 14. DSU owns six National Championships (1975, 76, 77, 89, 90 and 1992), Arkansas Tech was the National Runner-Up in 1999 and North Alabama finished third in 1994. All told, current GSC women’s teams have 33 bids to their credit, and the league’s overall total is 38 (not including two appearances by Valdosta State and one by MUW prior to joining the GSC).
One the men’s side, our current members have combines for 31 NCAA bids, including two National Championships won by the University of North Alabama (1979, 1991). Delta State (1998) and North Alabama (1996) are the most recent Elite Eight teams. Three-time defending GSC Champion Henderson State and West Georgia earned bids last year. All told, GSC members combined for 50 appearances, not including five by West Georgia and three by Valdosta State prior to joining the league.
During the months leading up to this event, the Tupelo community has worked overtime to prepare for the event. I cannot say enough about Linda Butler and her staff at the Visitors & Conventions Bureau, and especially the Sports Authority personnel, led by Gary Wheat. There is no doubt that the facility you are standing or sitting in, the BancorpSouth Center, is state-of-the-art and should enhance your enjoyment of the 14 games these next four days.
While you’re in town, I hope you will take advantage of the history, art, natural beauty and shopping opportunities in the area. Be sure to tell everyone why you are here so the community learns first-hand how valuable this 16-team event is from an economic and visitor’s standpoint. After all, “All Roads DO Lead to Tupelo.”
Enjoy the games and a hearty welcome to everyone.
NATHAN (NATE) N. SALANT