Faced with dwindling attendance in Los Angeles, as well as the dissolution of much of their TV relationship with Fox Sports, Pac-12 Conference athletic directors have made a deal to move their men’s basketball tourney to Las Vegas and a building that has never hosted basketball.
The deal awaits only a vote of university presidents gathered for the tourney Saturday, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Seattle and Salt Lake City, which have member schools, lost out in the bid process. They were believed to be, besides Los Angeles, the only cities to bid.
Ralph Morton, president of the Seattle Sports Commission, said the Pac-12 solicited bids for the men’s and women’s hoop tourneys last summer. The commission delivered a full proposal for the men’s tourney at KeyArena.
“We thought it was a good offer for both sides,” Morton said. “We’re within driving distance of four member schools and felt we had a lot to offer. We haven’t heard anything official, but with the end of the contract with Fox Sports, the league decided to take the event in-house and see what they could do to grow it into a premier event.
“We just successfully hosted the Pac-12 swim championships at Federal Way, and we’ll seek to host more Pac-12 championships. ”
The tourney always seemed dwarfed in LA and the cavernous Staples Center, home to the NBA Lakers and Clippers and NHL Kings. Previous proposals at rotating the event among member schools never gained traction. A big obstacle to a move was the Fox Sports contract, which for years televised many regular-season games as well as the tournament. Fox has its own studio in Staples.
But with the start of the Pac-12 Network in the fall and the expiration of the Fox deal, Commissioner Larry Scott continued to push his agenda of relentlessly marketing the league’s assets.
The deal, which has not been announced, reportedly will be for the next two years, with an option for 2015.
Las Vegas has no Pac-12 membership, but the city already hosts the post-season tourneys for the Mountain West Conference, the Western Athletic Conference and the West Coast Conference. The Pac-12 tourney would be in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which will need to be outfitted for basketball.
Huskies basketball coach Lorenzo Romar was lukewarm about the tourney leaving his hometown, but knows the realities.
“We’ve grown to be comfortable there,” Romar said. “It will definitely be different, and take some getting used to.”
Asked if Vegas’s temptations would be a problem for teams, Romar said, “LA has a lot of distractions too. It will be important to play and stay at appropriate places.
“But I have a lot of respect for Larry Scott. He’s made a lot of good decisions.”