Pac-12 Tournament To Las Vegas? Yes, Please…Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2011
Since Larry Scott took over as commissioner of the Pac-12, changes have come fast and furious. To begin with, when Scott accepted the position, it was a quaint 10-team conference playing most of its conference games outside of the eyes of ESPN’s cameras. Now, with this year’s additions of Colorado and Utah, there are more teams (and twice Scott almost succeeded in landing Texas and Oklahoma on his way to a 16-team conference), and with a $3 billion agreement with ESPN and Fox in tow, the conference and its member institutions have a new high-profile television contract and plenty of money to spend.
But Scott’s nowhere near done remaking this conference. Recently he spent some time in China, investigating the possibility of playing regular season games across the Pacific, and last week it was announced that a group from Las Vegas had entered a bid to host the Pac-12 Tournament beginning in 2013. The Pac-12’s agreement with the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the conference tournament has been held since its re-introduction in 2002, expires following this season, and given the repeatedly low attendance at that location, a possible alternative venue is being explored.
Enter Las Vegas, and specifically the MGM Grand Garden, a venue that has never hosted a basketball event in its 18-year history. The venue would seat roughly 13,000 people in its basketball configuration, and although it lacks luxury suites, would provide a good neutral-site location for the tournament. There are five Pac-12 schools within a six-hour drive of Las Vegas, and the schools from the furthest reaches of the conference footprint are all within a 2½ hour flight. And perhaps more importantly, Vegas is an entertainment destination that would provide a good incentive for fans from around the league to attend the tournament while providing other options for fun should their team be eliminated early.
For the college hoops junkie, Vegas is already becoming a premium destination in early March, not only due to the overflowing bonanza of college basketball action in every sports book, but because it already currently hosts three different conference tournaments. At present, the WCC and WAC host their tournaments at the Orleans Arena, with the WCC getting first crack the weekend prior to Selection Sunday and the WAC the weekend of it, while the Mountain West hosts its tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on UNLV’s campus that same weekend. Throw the Pac-12 into the mix and it would be possible to spend ten days in Vegas (provided your liver and other essential organs agree with this decision) and catch bits and pieces of four conference tournaments.
The Pac-12 is still considering other proposals from around the conference, including bids from Seattle, Salt Lake City and several other campus sites. Any static site, however, is liable to suffer from the same problems that the Staples Center endures. Not only is there ostensibly a home-court advantage for the local teams, but in years where the local or host team either is not very good or is eliminated early, there is the distinct possibility of playing in near-empty arenas, with only diehards traveling to other cities around the west to support their teams.
Another idea that has been floated around for years is to rotate the tournament between major population centers near member institutions; consider a seven-year cycle where the Staples Center, Oracle Arena (Oakland), Rose Garden (Portland), Key Arena (Seattle), US Airways Center (Phoenix), Pepsi Center (Denver) and EnergySolutions Arena (Salt Lake City) all take turns at hosting the tournament. This would be slightly more advantageous than a static location in that the potential home court advantage would be evened out over the cycle, but it would still possibly lead to lots of empty seats most years. Are Arizona or UCLA fans really going to get on a plane to Seattle or Portland in large numbers and fill seats there?
With the Vegas solution, there is no home court advantage for anybody, a good non-basketball fallback plan for fans should their teams lose early, and it goes a long way towards creating a mecca for college hoops fans in early March (although that last thing is certainly not something Scott and the Pac-12 are all that worried about). The conference’s decision will largely be made with an eye towards getting as many fannies into seats as possible and improving the atmosphere of the tournament, which has in recent years been lacking. “I really want a strong collegiate atmosphere around the basketball tournament,” Scott told ESPN. “I don’t want it to feel overly corporate. I want it to be well-attended and well-supported and there to be great buzz around the event.”
With the atmosphere at the Staples Center waning, it is time for a change, and the best way to give this event the most buzz is to introduce Vegas into the equation. Vegas would be enticing enough to draw fans from all over the west and the MGM Grand Garden would be small enough to create a rocking environment to kickstart March Madness. Imagine a pair of Friday night semifinals in Vegas paired with a Saturday night championship game that would serve as a great nightcap to what is always a great day of Championship Week basketball around the country. Hopefully the three conferences (Pac-12, MWC and WAC) would be able to find some kind of way to stagger start times enough so that the true diehard (ahem, me) could get a glimpse of each of the finals, but for the time being, RTC weighs in with its much-valued endorsement of the Pac-12 Tournament to Las Vegas plan.
Now, who do we talk to about getting some Pac-12 conference teams worth watching?