WAC event will return to Lawlor in 2009 | NevadaAppeal.com

WAC event will return to Lawlor in 2009

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – After a two-year hiatus, the Western Athletic Conference is returning to Lawlor Events Center in 2009 and 2010 for the men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments.

The University of Nevada and the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority, who partnered in the presentation to the WAC, were informed of the conference’s decision on Tuesday.

Nevada hosted the WAC event in 2005 and 2006, but lost the bid to New Mexico State in 2007 and 2008. Nevada won the bid over four other WAC schools and Salt Lake City, the only neutral site to enter the bid process.

Previously, Nevada hosted the Big West Tournament for five straight years.

“We are delighted to be awarded the 2009 and 2010 tournaments, and to have a chance to partner with the RSCVA again in hosting this event,” Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said. “After the success of the WAC basketball tournaments in 2005 and 2006, we are excited to bring this premier sporting event back to our university and community and to be able to showcase all that this area has to offer.

“We have sold just over 9,000 season tickets for men’s basketball, and the women’s team continues to improve under head coach Kim Gervasoni, so the University of Nevada can guarantee a great atmosphere for the teams that come.”

Ellen Oppenheim, the RSCVA president and CEO, indicated that she would have economic impact reports at a later date, but she said that the tournament would bring in plenty of dollars to local casino-hotels and restaurants.

“This is a great event for the fans and the visitors that are going to attend,” she said. “Bringing the tournament back to Reno will bring thousands of fans to the area, and those fans will stay in our hotels and take advantage of all that the Reno-Tahoe area has to offer after basketball is done for the day. This event will have a positive economic impact.”

Groth, who admitted that she was disappointed when Reno failed to land the 2007 and 2008 tournaments, was asked about the difference between the bids.

“The biggest difference is that this is a partnership,” Groth said. “We felt it was important to do it together. The financial package is strong.”

The RSCVA and Nevada are on the hook for travel and hotel costs for each of the other 16 teams (eight men and eight women).

Rory Hickock, who delivered the bid to the WAC along with Joe Kelly of the RSCVA, said work has already begun on the project. Such things as ticket prices and transportation for teams will be discussed at a later date.

“We’re literally a season away,” Hickock said. “I’d like to think that Reno knows how to put on events. We do it throughout the year.”

This is the first season that the WAC has entertained neutral bids. Karl Benson, WAC commissioner, has said in the past that he likes Salt Lake because it has plenty of hotel space and nice venues.

When interviewed recently and asked about Las Vegas as a neutral site, Benson said that the WAC presidents are concerned about playing a tournament on a casino-owned property (The Orleans) even though the arena and casino are two different sites, albeit on the same property.

Benson indicated that the WAC would be open to offers when the new 20,000-seat arena in Las Vegas is built.

Nevada men’s coach Mark Fox was on a recruiting trip and unable to attend the press conference, but Gervasoni was present.

“Excited is an understatement,” Gervasoni said when asked how she felt about the announcement. “I feel it’s special that we will have had the tournament four of the seven years (2010 will be her 7th season) I’ve been here. I appreciate the commitment from the administration and the RSCVA. They put together a great package.

“When I was younger, I always looked forward to coming up here as a visitor. It’s a great area to visit.”

Gervasoni said this announcement could help her on the recruiting trails the next two seasons.

“First of all, we’re focusing on winning this year’s tournament in Las Cruces,” Gervasoni said. “For our juniors and underclassmen, it will be exciting to make the announcement today.

“I can tell recruits they will be able to play here in their first WAC tournament.”

Gervasoni, like most coaches around the WAC, said that from a competitive point of view that a neutral site is the fairest.

“It’s not the right place or the right time,” Gervasoni said.

The Nevada coach said she isn’t sure that the WAC has arrived in the sense that it could play anywhere and draw a decent crowd like the Pac-10, Big 12 or ACC. Most men’s coaches around the WAC believe that a neutral site would still have to be within close driving distance of a WAC school in order to draw enough fans to make the tournament profitable.