Mountain West Basketball Tournament: Five Alternate Locations
Every year about this time, someone begins the heated debate with a simple question: Why isn't the Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament played on a neutral court?
In the 10 seasons the tournament has been held, seven have taken place in the Thomas and Mack Center, UNLV's home court. The other three (2004-2006) were held in Denver's Pepsi Center, but poor attendance figures pushed the tourney back to Sin City.
On March 10-13, the Thomas and Mack will host its eighth MWC tournament, and the Runnin' Rebels are poised to make a deep run in familiar territory.
The home court advantage for UNLV is substantial. The Rebels are 17-5 all-time in the MWC tournament, a winning percentage of 77.3. The schools closest to that mark, BYU and Utah, are both 11-8, a 57.9 winning percentage.
Of UNLV's three tourney titles and six championship game appearances, only one came in Denver: a 73-70 loss to Utah in 2004.
A failed relocation attempt should not indefinitely paralyze the MWC from considering a different location to improve competitive balance. Here are five alternatives that make the most sense.
Orleans Arena—Las Vegas
Las Vegas is a central, attractive location by all means, but there are plenty of alternatives to the Thomas and Mack.
The Orleans Arena has tournament experience: The West Coast Conference tournament returns to Orleans Arena this year after a successful run, and the WAC will host its tournament there in 2011 and 2012.
Besides conference tournaments, the Orleans Arena is the annual host of the Las Vegas Classic, which BYU won earlier this season. Utah has also participated in the Classic.
The arena connects directly to the Orleans Hotel, making it an easy walk for fans and players from the hotel to the court.
MGM Grand Garden Arena—Las Vegas
Best known for concerts and boxing matches, the MGM Grand Garden Arena is also a serviceable basketball venue.
The advantages are similar to those of the Orleans but with a larger arena and hotel for those who make the trip.
The prestige of having this tournament in such a nationally/internationally-recognized arena would help boost the MWC's image substantially.
Honda Center—Anaheim, Calif.
It's a small wonder this venue doesn't regularly host a basketball team. Maybe if the Clippers were a better-run franchise, they'd be in Anaheim by now.
Regardless, the Honda Center is very serviceable for basketball. The annual John Wooden Classic has taken place here, as well as four West regionals (1998, 2001, 2003, 2008).
Obviously, this is the least central of all the locations, but the neutrality and the weather would be excellent. The potential Disneyland tie-ins make it even more attractive. Who wouldn't trade Laramie or Fort Collins for SoCal in early March?
Energy Solutions Arena—Salt Lake City
The ESA gets a chance to shine when the NCAA Tournament's West regionals come to the Beehive State next month.
With regards to conference tournament experience, the ESA hosted the WAC tournament in 1993 and 1994, back when it was the Delta Center. It was the first (and last) neutral court to host the WAC tournament.
The proximity to BYU and Utah are duly noted, but recall that neither team won the WAC tournament in the Delta Center era. BYU made the title game in 1994, losing to Hawaii.
The potential for still-frigid weather is also a downer, but Salt Lake's TRAX light rail system makes getting around a bit easier.
US Airways Center—Phoenix
Gambling and cheap buffets aside, Phoenix offers the same advantages that Las Vegas does: fairly central for all teams, warm weather, and a superb facility.
While the Sully Dome (he flew for US Airways, remember) may not have any previous conference tournament experience, it has hosted two NBA All-Star Games and the West regionals of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
Total and complete neutrality is perhaps the best advantage in the Valley of the Sun. How much more neutral can you be if your entire state has no teams in the conference?
In my opinion, Phoenix is the best site possible for the MWC tournament.