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The great debate rages on in the WAC

The great debate rages on in the WAC

BY DARRELL MOODY

The debate goes on: Campus sites or neutral court?

It’s a never-ending battle. The Western Athletic Conference men’s coaches are in unanimous accord in wanting a neutral site for the men’s basketball championships, while many of the conference presidents or athletic directors prefer the campus sites because their schools get more guaranteed money.

The coaches almost got what they wanted last spring, but Reno won the bid by a 5-4 vote over Salt Lake City to host for the next two seasons, mainly because of its tiered proposal, which guarantees more money the longer a team stays in the tournament.

Again, that nagging problem with money.

“If this is supposed to be our premiere event, it needs to be off-campus,” said San Jose State athletic director Tom Bowen. “This will come back up again in May when we meet.”

There are a couple of neutral sites besides the E Center in Salt Lake City. There is Arco Arena in Sacramento and The Orleans in Las Vegas. Hey, I’ll even throw out the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim.

With Arco, you get the big arena feel. With The Orleans, the E Center and Anaheim, you get a little more intimacy. Historically, the WAC has had very few neutral-court championships.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson said that he’s had discussions with The Orleans about moving the tournament there as late as last spring. He also had preliminary talks with Arco.

“We were approached by The Orleans, and they indicated interest in hosting a conference tournament at their facility,” Benson said. “We reviewed it with the coaches in April and the athletic directors supported the coaches’ suggestion of Las Vegas.”

The conference’s board of directors, however, voted it down. According to Benson, they had an issue with the tournament being on the same parcel of land even though they are two separate buildings.

Big mistake.

Las Vegas is a destination city, and that’s key when you are hosting a big-time event like the WAC Tournament. People need something to do when they aren’t watching basketball, and Sin City has plenty to offer in terms of outside entertainment.

Is there really any difference between playing a conference tournament in Las Vegas a few steps away from a casino on the same property, or playing at the University of Nevada in Reno, which is a half-mile away from a street full of casinos?

None.

I call that short-sightedness on the part of academic people. Benson says it’s a philosophical decision on the part of the WAC.

The West Coast Conference recently announced that it will go from on-campus sites to The Orleans starting next season. A wise move.

Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland recently pointed out that the WCC Tournament is played in a Saturday, Sunday and Monday format, and that the WAC could go in on Tuesday and run its normal schedule.

Benson acknowledged that and when talks resume next spring, Las Vegas and Salt Lake could both be in the running.

It comes down to whether the people that run the WAC schools are after the big money or equal competition.

•••

While we’re on the subject of the WAC, commissioner Benson said there is nothing new regarding any new contacts with ESPN.

The WAC is under contract through the 2009-10 school year. ESPN tried to renegotiate the contract a couple of years ago, but the sides couldn’t come to an agreement.

The current contract is top-heavy with football, and the men’s basketball teams might be the most underexposed in the country with just three games shown on ESPN this season. Every men’s basketball coach has complained about the lack of a TV package and how it affects recruiting.

While Benson said nothing is going on the WAC, according to a couple of sources, is working on a proposal for whenever the next negotiating window comes around.

The source said that the proposal he was shown indicated that the WAC would get around a dozen games, and that number would include a couple of women’s games.

Whether it pans out or not remains to be seen. One thing I know for sure is that the WAC needs ESPN more than ESPN needs the WAC. The sooner the WAC realizes that the better. The way I see it, some exposure is better than none.

The problem when you get into bed with ESPN is that the network will want to have carte blanche when it comes to determining start times and what day of the week the game will be played.

There was an issue a couple of years ago when ESPN wanted to scratch a meaningless Fresno State-Louisiana Tech football game and show a different game in its place. Obviously that didn’t go over well with the WAC.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281