LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12: Head coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies celebrates with the trophy after the Huskies defeated the Arizona Wildcats 77-75 in the championship game of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Year after year, the Pac-10 has had one giant albatross to deal with. That blasted basketball tournament.
The Pac-10 tournament has always been a bit of a disaster. The conference already had the perfect round-robin format (each team plays every other team twice) in the regular season. But that regular season ultimately got watered down by the automatic bid earned from what amounted to a single elimination contest for a tourney bid, regardless of the quality of the opponent.
Still, that's not what made it the worst. What made it the worst was the Staples Center.
The Wednesday-Thursday night format already made it difficult for fans of all the fanbases to attend. No one wants to travel to Los Angeles and spend half the week hanging out downtown. It's no New York City, not even an Atlanta. Very hard to convince people to put up with the hassle of tackling the gridlock of the urban sprawl that's LA for one week.
As a result, the conference's ultimate tournament was contested in front of crowds that would have had trouble filling high school gymnasiums. Last year's Pac-10 title game had a grand 12,000 seats sold, and FAR LESS people showing up for the game. There was a 15,000 ticket decline with regards to total attendance from 2009 to 2010, and the figures were likely not much better the following year.
So now that we have a Pac-12, a brand new TV contract, and an expiring deal with regards to the current tournament setup, Larry Scott (in all his infinite wisdom) is ready to change it all up, turning the tournament from terrible to tantalizing!
"An empty stadium looks awful on TV," he says. He has faced that problem with the conference’s postseason basketball tournament, which has been played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to less than packed houses; the conference is strongly considering moving the tournament to the MGM Grand (MGM) in Las Vegas. "People will travel to Las Vegas," Scott says.
MGM seems like a strange place to contest a tournament (I know they have prize fights, but a basketball arena?); Orleans or Thomas Mack seem like better venues. Nevertheless, putting it right in the Strip does make it as easy as possible for fans to enjoy the game. It would be a fun first-year experiment for the conference to try out. Fans will come out, they'll be happy to spend a week in Vegas, and if their team loses, they'll be happier to stick around and soak up the sights, sounds, and salary dumps on the slots. It'll be a strong packed audience, and it'll be something TV will love to soak up. Who can turn down Vegas in the spring?
If rotating sites are not going to happen, this is probably the best alternative for everyone. Los Angeles is clearly a death trap and there seems to be no consensus on how well fans will travel from one site to another. Vegas is the safe option, and not at all a bad opportunity for the conference to try out when the new TV contract kicks out.
Anything but Staples at this point would suffice.