FORT MYERS, Fla. — The 5th Annual Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off returned this week at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena, but a historic lineup change begins Friday.
Universities from across the country have flocked to Southwest Florida for the basketball tournament, which pits top teams against each other.
For the first time in the history of the tournament, the Tip-Off will host its first-ever Women’s Division at the event.
#14 Maryland will take on the unranked DePaul University of Chicago in the first women’s game. They will be joined by Pitt University and Towson University, also of Maryland, to form the new Island Division territory. All have performed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Maryland head coach Brenda Frese says her appearance here is a big deal for the team.
“It’s about opportunity,” she said, “and the fact that we could bring all these young women here to Fort Myers and give them an incredible experience, both on and off the court.”
Championships are nothing new for DePaul — Doug Bruno, six-time head coach of the Big East regular-season champion, says they love a challenge despite being in the area for the first time. Their roster includes six experienced players and top-notch newcomers.
Bruno, who is approaching his 37th year with the team, says they got off to a rocky start with two starters injured, each season is a unique journey.
“We had to retool,” he said. “I think we had a strong game against Miami the other night and it put us on the right track. Hopefully we can build on Miami’s win and come off with a bang against Maryland.”
DePaul vs. Maryland taps out at 11 a.m. Friday.
Men’s Division games were played before Thanksgiving. Mississippi State defeated Utah 52-49 to capture the Beach Division championship.
Sam Houston clinched the Palms Division title against South Dakota with a final score of 80-49.
Southwest Florida wins
Regardless of who wins, Southwest Florida comes up trumps when it comes to the economic impact of the tournament.
In 2021, for example, visitors who came to the area for Tip-Off and other sporting events spent nearly $72 million on hotels, groceries, gas, rental cars and other purchases.
The city of Fort Myers conducted a study of the overall economic impact of tourism and found that only 2 percent came to the city for sporting events. Of these, 4% took part in the tip-off.
The study found that visitors spent $194 million on admission to attractions and events throughout 20221.