Conference USA athletic directors voted Wednesday to recommend the league’s 2011 men’s basketball tournament be played in El Paso.
El Paso, along with Memphis and Tulsa, put in bids to host the tournament. Memphis and El Paso were thought to be the frontrunners heading into this week’s Conference USA meetings in Florida.
It’s a gamble for the Sun City though. El Paso’s plan reportedly includes a $1 million guarantee, absorbing the risk the tournaament would not generate as much revenue off ticket sales outside of Memphis.
Memphis, a rabid basketball town, didn’t need to pony up anything. The FedEx Forum was brimming with fans from 2005 to 2009 when the conference tournament was held there. The Tigers had a definite home-court advantage and a stranglehold on the league during those years, SAT scandals notwithstanding.
Conference officials must have cringed during last season’s tournament final, though. A mere 8,476 fans attended the game between Houston and UTEP in the 19,200-seat BOK Center in Tulsa. Made the league look pretty unenthused on national television.
And unless the Miners are in the final here in El Paso, I think the same sparse crowd can be expected in the Don Haskins Center. If that happens, the city loses a fairly great deal of money. And the questions about where it will come from will begin immediately.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner told the Orlando Sentinel before the vote:
“I think it needs to be in Memphis,” Pastner said. “Nothing against El Paso. Nothing against any other city. The best place to have it is in Memphis. I’m talking about fan support, media coverage, travel expenses in terms of making it doable for every other school. It’s a no-brainer, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be in Memphis.”
Let’s not be all sour on the tournament though. UTEP does have a loaded roster returning despite the loss of their top two inside players. And new coach Tim Floyd, a fan favorite, seems to have recruited capable replacements. The Miners will have the firepower to push for a return to the tournament final. And El Paso has shown that it will buy tickets when a title is on the line.
Furthermore, tourists will find that the restaurant/bar scene near the Haskins Center stacks up well against any other place in the country. The Glory Road Transit Terminal will help, too. It will be completed in October 2010.
So here’s hoping the gamble pays off. The vote is subject to approval by by the conference board of directors when it meets in Dallas in June. Stay tuned for updates on www.elpasotimes.com
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