Salt Lake, E Center fell just short of hosting WAC Tournament

All 18 coaches in the Western Athletic Conference are in favor of a neutral site for the conference tournament, and the league commissioner is also a proponent for it, but when push comes to shove, the money wins out.
The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Sports Commission put in a bid to host the 2009 and 2010 WAC Tournaments at the E Center in West Valley City, and according to Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner, the bid fell just short of the one present by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority and the University of Nevada-Reno.
“We went into the bid process hoping that there would be a neutral site that would come forward and we were pleased that Salt Lake did get into a mix,” Benson said. “They did put forward a very competitive financial bid, but at the end of the day, the financial piece was what drove the decision to go to Reno.”
Reno hosted the tournament in 2005 and 2006. Las Cruces has hosted for the last two years.
“It was very close,” Benson said of the bid separating Salt Lake City and Reno.
A 20-percent difference, he estimated.
“The financial piece of this is an indication that the WAC Tournament is taking on greater value and that the Salt Lake bid that was put forward, had it been put forward three years ago, the financials would have been there,” he said.
The WAC Tournament hasn’t been at a neutral site since 1993 and 1994 when it was held in what is now EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.
It nearly made its way back. Along with Reno and Salt Lake, Boise, Las Cruces and Fresno made pitches to host the tournament.
“A lot of times those types of votes are rubber-stamped by the Board and in this case the Board conducted a telephone conference call to review the recommendation and review both bids (Salt Lake and Reno),” Benson said. “The Board did confirm the recommendation of the athletic administrators.”
Since Salt Lake City, the tournament has been in Albuquerque (2), Las Vegas (3), Tulsa (3), Fresno (2), Reno (2) and Las Cruces (2).
Having it at a home site definitely give the advantage to the home team. Since 1995 the home team has been in the finals or semifinals eight times. The last two years the home team has won the tournament.
“There is a big difference in being able to use your own locker room and sleep in your own bed, and play on the same rims that you play 16 or 17 of 18 games,” Benson said.
There has been some talk about the tournament being held in Sacramento, Seattle or Las Vegas.
Benson said Las Vegas and Salt Lake could support the tournament, but Sacramento and Seattle would be questionable.
“You can’t go too far outside the region to far to the north or south. As long as you stay in the geographical center it can support it,” Benson said.
But there are unpredicatabilities at home sites as well.
“The championship game without the home team is often times a pretty vacant building,” Benson said. “That risk is potential.”
For now, the almighty dollar has spoken, and the WAC is benefiting both financially with the bid package and attendance. Only time will tell if it will get away from the home sites. Without a regular-season national television deal in place, the league can’t afford to take financial hits in other areas.
“We are excited for the future (and) that Salt Lake would continue to be interested,” Benson said. “One of the discussions we had with the coaches was the talk of campus sites versus neutral sites and the importances of a neutral site. I’m a strong advocate for a neutral site and hope that the next go-round whether it’s Salt Lake or another site it might material.”

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