Head down a flight of stairs in the old Natural History Museum at Fair Park, and you’ll find Monica Paul, the Dallas Sports Commission’s executive director, toiling away at the warm brown, L-shaped desk in her office.
On a cloudy Monday morning in February, natural light spills in as Paul searches for a remnant of the past: a large binder containing facts and selling points about hotels, facilities, and the infrastructure of Dallas, with which she and her colleagues compile facts that sell the city as a host site for major sporting events. It’s called a bid book, and even though the process has since moved online, the methodology remains the same.
Since becoming the executive director eight years ago, Paul and her team have used those books as part of their pitches to bring major sports events to North Texas like the 2014 NCAA Tournament Men’s Final Four, multiple WrestleManias, and in two years, the 2026 World Cup. One of her biggest coups came in 2017, when Paul helped bring the NCAA Women’s Final Four to Dallas for the first time in the city’s history. The event was an overwhelming success, becoming the first women’s national championship game sell out since 2014.
She took note of the city’s support and wanted to build something “better” in the following years. When Dallas won the bid to host the 2023 NCAA Women’s Final Four, Paul fulfilled that wish. With the winning bid came the NCAA Division II and III national championships in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. It will mark just the second time in 41 years all three championships will take place at the same site.
“We are a sports city,” Paul says with a slight smile. “We support everything from football to basketball to golf–you name it. We have a passionate base, and we take pride in that.”
But this year, Final Four weekend matters for reasons beyond the event itself. It’s the culmination of a month showcasing Dallas as an emerging hub for women’s basketball.
It begins with Athletes Unlimited, a uniquely structured player-driven league that first made its mark in Dallas for bringing professional volleyball back to the city in 2022. This year, the organization has built on that success by announcing in October that it would relocate its basketball tournament from Las Vegas to the Fair Park Coliseum.
The move is already paying dividends. At least 15 players with significant WNBA experience are playing in the league during its five-week season, including second-year Dallas Wings guard Veronica Burton, former Dallas wings guard Allisha Gray, and Irving native Odyssey Sims.
Burton, a Massachusettsan who played her college ball at Northwestern, didn’t know what to expect in the way of fan support in a new region of the country. To her welcome surprise, it was “nothing but great.”
“You are seeing more and more people show up to support women’s basketball,” she says. “It’s really special … Having people come up to you and say that they are big fans is something.”
Sims, who played for the Wings in 2016, describes Athletes Unlimited as proof of concept for the growth of the women’s game.
“Women’s basketball is growing,” Sims says. “The location [Dallas] is great … A little bit of everybody is watching.”
AU serves as a near-perfect on-court appetizer for the Final Four. The league’s season runs until March 25, six days before national championship weekend begins on March 31.
Off the court, USA Basketball is coming to town on March 30 for a Women in the Game conference. Andrea Travelstead, USA Basketball’s associate director of youth and sport development, says the event is intended to “empower” women to see and pursue opportunities in sports. Latricia Trammell, the Wings’ new head coach, is one of the listed speakers.
“It’s about inspiring that next generation,” Travelstead said. “To have Coach Trammell, a first-year head coach for the Wings, to have her tied in, a high-profile coach, is great. In Dallas, we are really lucky… We are in an area where there is a real excitement about women’s sports.”
Additionally, in celebration of Title IX, Final Four weekend will feature The NCAA Title IX 50th Anniversary Showcase, a collection of photos and videos, trophies and uniforms, USA Basketball artifacts, and other memorabilia. Other events include an open practice prior to the Final Four as well as a free concert in the AT&T Discovery District.
Add it up, and March will be a month celebrating women’s athletic achievements–which is only fitting, given that this is Women’s History Month. Ilene Hauser, Athlete Unlimited’s director of sport for basketball, says one woman in particular deserves credit for making that happen
“It all starts with Monica Paul,” she says. “She saw and sees the opportunity to bring big-time women’s sports to Dallas. It starts there.”
Hauser believes that Dallas has a “passion” to support the myriad sports that land in North Texas in no small part due to the efforts of the Dallas Sports Commission. It is the epitome of the line whispered in Ray Kinsella’s ear from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
Paul has. She’s already helped secure a return of the Final Four in 2031. She has the digital bid book to prove it. She’s seen the dividends of what she’s helped build since that first Final Four: support and appreciation for women’s sports in the city won’t stop at the end of March or when a national championship is crowned at the start of April.
“The number of people that want to engage in women’s sports has been way more elevated since 2017,” Paul says. “That is part of the legacy of hosting major events. Sometimes, when you can see the sparkle in a kid’s eye and the smile that comes on their face when events like this come to town… Events can be a grind, so that, sometimes, is the best part. Seeing the twinkle and the smiles, it’s what keeps you going.”
She expects to see plenty of them this month.