HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Move to Vegas would jump-start Pac-12 tourney

2012-03-07T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Move to Vegas would jump-start Pac-12 tourneyGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Five reasons why the lackluster Pac-12 basketball tournament will almost surely be moving to the Garden Arena at the Las Vegas MGM Grand next year:

1. Default. There's no other site that offers sizzle, the potential for fan mania, travel convenience and the Big League image that commissioner Larry Scott has insisted upon in every other facet of his operation. Translation: money, exposure and a significant I've-gotta-be-there buzz.

2. Key Arena in downtown Seattle is a dump. It costs $20 to park a car there, and it won't stop raining until late June.

3. Fan apathy for college sports in the greater Phoenix area is so well manifest that when Arizona State played host to the 1990 Pac-10 tournament it drew 36,052 over five days, roughly 52 percent capacity. Even Arizona Wildcat fans didn't show up in big numbers. In the '90 championship game, Arizona drew just 8,037 when it was ranked No. 2 in the nation.

4. Salt Lake City has been the site of an NCAA-record 84 tournament games, routinely selling out every session in 17 different years. Moreover, the NBA-equipped Energy Solutions Arena is as good as any of the cookie-cutter facilities used for postseason college basketball. It is also as conveniently located as any Pac-12 city and is a major airport hub. But SLC doesn't move the needle; you don't leave SoCal for Utah even if you enjoy spring skiing.

5. California doesn't care. In the tournament's 10 seasons at Staples Center, total attendance hit 80,000 just twice and both were during UCLA Final Four seasons. Last year total attendance was 56,051. The four California schools - UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal - had a cumulative ticket inventory of 794,798 for 69 home games this season. They announced the purchase of but 420,179 tickets.

The league won't announce the move until next week because it hasn't gone through the formal voting process among presidents and chancellors and, well, because it wouldn't be polite or make good business sense to dump Los Angeles while it is staging this week's tournament.

The lure of Las Vegas was inevitable. The MGM Grand knows how to stage a Big Event, and so far the Pac-10/12 tournament has not had that feel to it.

Over the next 90 days, the MGM Grand will present the Academy of Country Music Awards, the Eagles, Van Halen, Madonna, Andrea Bocelli and a world championship fight featuring Manny Pacquiao.

Arizona coach Sean Miller knows a busted conference tournament when he sees one. In his final three seasons at Xavier, the Musketeers and their fans had to travel to Atlantic City, N.J., for the Atlantic 10 tournament. They never drew more than 6,823 in the Boardwalk Hall, which has a capacity of 10,500 for basketball.

Not surprisingly, the Atlantic 10 is bailing out of Atlantic City and moving to the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., next year.

"I would like to see (the Pac-12 tournament) in a place that can be more well-attended," Miller said Tuesday. "For our conference to be in a setting with anything less is not right. There are too many conference tournaments that have incredible energy, atmosphere and a feel to them. There's no reason why our conference can't experience the same things."

In its 15-year existence, which includes the 1987-1990 stretch in which tournament games were played on the campuses of Arizona, ASU and UCLA, and at the NBA's Los Angeles Forum, the conference tournament was a rousing success just once.

In 1988 at McKale Center, all five sessions of the second Pac-10 tournament sold out, at 66,477 overall. Little old Tucson outdrew UCLA (37,633), ASU (36,052), the Forum (41,994) and five of the 10 championships held at Staples Center.

But playing on the home court of a member school became toxic.

After watching Arizona win games by 26, 24 and 14 points in the 1988 tournament, USC coach George Raveling said: "One of these days, we'll walk onto the court and see everybody dressed in black and some guy blowing the trumpet playing 'Requiem.' We're all in trouble here."

Initially, member schools earned close to $90,000 for the Pac-10 tournament. That sum was estimated at close to $400,000 in the early years at Staples Center. But empty seats became a common and embarrassing part of the landscape. Corporate groups bought thousands of the tickets and often couldn't give them away.

Congestion, traffic, downtown parking fees and high prices for lodging and tickets mitigated against the average college hoops fan being part of the process.

In other precincts, such as the ACC, the tradition of good college basketball has created a demand to play host to the ACC tournament. It is in downtown Atlanta this year and has moved the last decade among Greensboro, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Fla.; and Charlotte, N.C. Ticket demand is crazy good.

Not so in the Pac-12. The league's old administration forever held Las Vegas in contempt, believing it to be the source of evil, a stain on the concept of amateur athletics and all that is good.

Now it has become the Promised Land.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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