Why Is the Maui Invitational Being Played In Asheville?

Why Is the Maui Invitational Being Played In Asheville?

The Maui Invitational is one of college basketball’s most prestigious preseason tournaments. Each year, college basketball teams gather in Lahaina on the island of Maui, HI for a basketball tournament with a festival atmosphere.

However, this year players and coaches from such hoops powerhouses as North Carolina and Indiana will trade their volcanic hikes and white sand beaches for Blue Ridge hikes and Great Smoky Mountain vistas. Due to COVID-19, the Maui Invitational will happen at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville this year, starting Nov. 30.

Here’s why, and what the change will mean for Asheville and the basketball-obsessed state of North Carolina.

The Maui Invitational: a Brief History

Now officially called the Camping World Maui Invitational, the tournament started in 1984. Until this year, teams from around the U.S. competed on a neutral court in Lahaina, HI. Chaminade University usually plays host to the event.

The Maui Invitational will be played in Asheville this year.
Image courtesy of Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

There are several high-profile preseason tournaments in NCAA basketball. However, the Maui Invitational may be the most esteemed. In 2012, AP college basketball editor Jim O’Connell said that the Maui Invitational was “the best in-season tournament in the country – the standard by which all others are compared.”

Each year, teams from each of college basketball’s major conferences (including the ACC) are invited. In the tournament’s 36-year history, its winner has gone on to win the Division 1 National Championship five times.

North Carolina teams have typically performed well at the tournament. Duke has won more championships in Maui (five) than any other team. North Carolina is in second place, with four titles. You could say our state has a special tie to the Maui invitational.

Roy Williams’s Tar Heels could even that score with archrival Duke this year, too. UNC will compete in the Maui Invitational this year against Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, Providence, Stanford, Texas, and UNLV.

Why did the Maui Invitational move to Asheville?

Last year, COVID-19 brought an early end to the 2019-2020 college basketball season. This year, the NCAA wants ways to keep players, coaches and communities safe. As a result, the organization had to rethink its usual run of preseason tournaments.

Maui as a location was especially a concern because teams require extensive air travel to get there. Not to mention that Hawai’i also has stringent travel restrictions that could cause a logistical nightmare for teams showing up to play. And so, the committees decided to relocate the tournament.

Asheville will host the Maui Invitational this year.
Image courtesy of Chris Ried on Unsplash.

But why Asheville? For starters, the city has a well-developed tourism sector capable of handling the influx of players and fans. In addition, Asheville has already hosted a number of high-profile sporting events recently. The Land of the Sky was the site of both the Southern Conference and Big South conference tournaments earlier this year, as well as the 2019 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas (which featured both Venus and Serena Williams playing tennis for the American team against Australia).

The Maui invitational happily explained why it’d chosen Asheville. A press release on the tournament’s website says:

“We’re taking Maui to the mainland! For the first time ever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and schedule changes announced by the NCAA, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational is planning to relocate to Asheville, NC with games to be played at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville operating under the guidance of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for mass gatherings. Tournament dates will be announced shortly. We look forward to bringing the Spirit of Aloha to the mainland.”

What impact could the tournament have on the town?

The Maui Invitational carries enormous economic impact. In previous years, the tournament averaged more than 4,000 annual visitors who ate, shopped and stayed in local spots (boosting the local economy). The 2007 tournament ranked among the year’s top revenue-generating events, creating over $8 million in revenue for Lahaina. From 1984 to 2005 (its whole history), the tournament generated more than $110 million for Maui.

This year in Asheville will obviously be different. The tournament will follow all state guidelines on mass gatherings, meaning there won’t be many people watching the games in person. However, between players, coaches, personnel, and media members, the event will still bring hordes of people and attention to Asheville.

The Maui Invitational could bring as much as $1.1 million to Asheville.
Image courtesy of Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.

Demp Bradford, President of Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission Demp Bradford, helped bring the tournament to Asheville, and he’s optimistic about the event’s economic potential. In an interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times, he said he expects the event to generate more than $1.1 million for the local economy — even without fans.

Will the arrival of the Maui Invitational bring money and future high-profile sporting events to Asheville? Those things remain to be seen. However, one thing is for certain: after a long offseason, North Carolinians are itching for college basketball to begin.

While you might not be able to get tickets for the Maui Invitational, Asheville is a lovely place to visit any time of year. Looking for some great places to eat while you’re there? How about some fantastic spots for a cup of coffee in the Land of the Sky? Stay tuned to North Carolina News Daily for more insider tips and information.