Stevens: Hear ye, Hear ye. MW Coaches Not All Happy With MW Tourney Site

Feb. 18, 2013

Mountain West Coaches Not All Happy With Las Vegas As The Site for MW Tournament

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Money talks and people listen. But is anybody listening to Mountain West men's basketball coaches when they say they do not want to play for an automatic NCAA bid in the home gym of the UNLV Rebels?

"I'm not OK with that, but I understand how the politics work," said Wyoming Coach Larry Shyatt referring to the opinions of coaches sometimes falling on deaf ears. "I understand the playing rules after 40 years (coaching)."

Of course, we are talking about the 2013 Reeses Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament to be held March 12-16 in the Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center - and for three Marchs after that.

This is a gym where the Rebels are 15-1 this season heading into Wednesday's game with Colorado State.

This is a building which also is approaching a record ticket-selling five days. (Tickets at UNLVTickets.com) The lower bowl is sold out and the Mack has had sellouts of 18,500 for men's tourney games in past seasons.

It's a big place. And who doesn't love a weekend in Vegas?

The Mountain's Board of Directors approved a three-year deal to keep the Mountain pack in the Mack through the 2016 season. Most likely, in 2016 the lease will be renewed. The Pac-12, the West Coast and the Western Athletic Conference also play in Vegas.

"Nothing has really changed," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford discussing the opinions of the league coaches not making much of an impact. Alford also said the vote of school presidents and athletics directors "obviously counts more than ours."

"I've voiced my displeasure of it," said Alford. "Nobody will be able to tell me any different, that it's not a tremendous advantage for UNLV."

The Thomas & Mack has been the tourney's site for 11 years: 2000 to 2003 and 2007 to 2013's run. The Rebels last won a MW tourney in 2008 and did not win in Denver (2004-2006). The Lobos have won once in Denver and last March in Vegas.

UNLV Coach Dave Rice, who also came to the Mack as a BYU assistant, said there is no question the tournament should be in Vegas. However, he is willing to give up the home-floor advantage.

"The tournament needs to be in Las Vegas," Rice said. "This is the best city in America to host a conference tournament. It's a great place for the fans. We tried it in Denver and it did not work.

"They don't ask me where we should have it (but) I would have no problem if it were in a different venue in town."

There are been a number of other options for the MW tourney kicked around including:

1. Rotate the site to other institutions that can promise the big bucks made in Vegas.

2. Take it to another destination site and play on a neutral court. Over the years, Denver and Salt Lake City have made bids.

3. Keep it in Vegas, but make the Rebels' run in another venue.

Rice said his Rebels' main advantage is running on their floor and shooting at their rims. The Rebs also don't have to travel or sleep in a strange bed.

The Mack divides tickets among the Mountain members, so UNLV's advantage in the stands is reduced. Vegas had close to 19,000 for San Diego State's recent visit and the Rebs average 14,955 over 16 home games. UNM is averaging 14,966.

The reasons to come to Sin City are as obvious as the lights that blaze on Vegas' Strip. The competitive disadvantage also is obvious. A few athletes and coaches are favored; many more are placed on an uneven playing surface.

But there are bills to be paid.

"Obviously, it's all about money and, as they say, it's not growing on trees," said Colorado State's Larry Eustacy. "I think home court (advantage) diminishes as the year goes on, but certainly it's an advantage. It's also a lot of pressure for Coach Rice. It can be a curse, too.

"If you can make the same kind of money on a neutral court, fine. If you can't, you have to go where the finances are. Isn't that why these leagues are all breaking up and changing?"

Yeah, but that's mostly football stuff. The bottom line for keeping the tourney in Vegas surely is money and the fact that Sin City will attract a lot of fans the tourney might not attract to other sites - and that's worth a lot of money to Vegas.

But you can't help but think that Lobo Coach Steve Alford would be willing to shoulder any and all pressure that comes with hosting the tourney in The Pit.