WAC tourney should stay in Reno | NevadaAppeal.com

WAC tourney should stay in Reno

Come to Reno basketball fans of the Western Athletic Conference. Watch some hoops and and have fun doing it.

That’s the concept Cary Groth, Nevada’s first-year athletic director, will be pitching to her fellow athletic directors next weekend in Dallas. Groth is out to land the next two conference basketball tournaments (2005-06 and 2006-07) in Reno.

Utah State, Fresno State, Boise State and Nevada are the four schools being considered.

“They will evaluate the four bids and will make a recommendation to the WAC board shortly thereafter,” said Karl Benson, WAC commissioner. “I would expect some type of announcement in early October.”

It should be a slam dunk for Nevada.

Here’s my list in order of how they should be considered.

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1. Reno. What’s not to like about having the tournament here? The Big West liked Reno so much it had the Big West Tournament here four straight years. Reno is the most attractive venue because of what it offers the fan besides basketball. It is the city that never sleeps. You can ski, play golf and obviously there are shows galore all over town. Reno is an easy destination by air, too, and has plenty of nice hotels. Heck, fans from Boise and San Jose could drive over depending on the weather.

2. Boise. This is one of the fastest-growing cities in the West. Boise has hosted first-round NCAA events several times, and could certainly handle a conference tournament. There are more than 4,000 rooms available in the city, and plenty of museums and recreational activities to pursue during the five-day event.

3. Salt Lake City. I’ve never been to Salt Lake, so I don’t know much about the area other than there would be plenty of hotel space and getting there wouldn’t be an issue for fans or teams. In March, there certainly would be an opportunity to have some fun in the snow, and maybe even get some golf in. The nightlife would be a distant second to Reno.

4. Fresno. From an administrative point of view, Fresno did an excellent job running last year’s tournament. Save Mart Center is state of the art and easily the nicest arena in the WAC. However, it’s Fresno, and save for the Picadilly chain, the hotels are overpriced for what you get. It’s also a hard place for teams to fly into and there is zilch to do besides watch basketball. I would think Fresno would be the last choice of the conference executives this time around.

Benson can’t talk on the record about what he would like to see happen, but he brought up the fact that coaches would like to have the tournament played at a neutral site, and of the four, Salt Lake City is the only place to offer that.

The tournament, if Salt Lake wins the bid, would be played at one of the arenas used for skating at the Olympics.

“That would be one of the positives of a Salt Lake bid,” Benson said. “The coaches have always wanted that.”

Benson also pointed out that it would not be a place where Utah State would play during the regular season. Still, it would be like having it at a school site because Logan isn’t that far away from Salt Lake.

“If they are considering Salt Lake a neutral site, they have a different map than I do,” Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox said. “Every team in the league will have played here (Lawlor) once before they come for this year’s tournament.

“Certainly the team that hosts has an advantage. That’s why you bid for the tournament. One of the greatest advantages is having fan support. Attendance was down last year in Fresno because Fresno wasn’t playing (after the first day).”

I’m not wild about a first-year conference member hosting the tournament when there are other schools that haven’t ever hosted the tournament. Unfortunately, the WAC doesn’t have a high enough profile to play at a neutral court. The WAC needs to play at host sites to maximize its attendance as much as possible.

A Northern Nevada writer has suggested several times that the tournament play in Las Vegas every year. While Vegas is a fun place to visit, there are only two sites that could host the tourney – Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV or the Orleans Arena. I can’t see a Mountain West Conference school allowing a competing conference in their arena, and Orleans Arena only seats about 7,000, and is located next door to a casino.

Nice try, but scratch that idea. You are forcing EVERY school and its fans to travel. As alluring as Las Vegas is, I just don’t believe it would work. I doubt that Reno fans would make that trip, thus you would lose your biggest fan base.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.

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