Wednesday , March 07, 2018 - 1:16 PM
OGDEN — The Big Sky Conference says its neutral site basketball tournament venture has worked, which is why it’s packing up the event and moving it north.
The men’s and women’s basketball championships tipped off this week for the third and final time in Reno, Nevada. The event will move to Century Link Arena in Boise, Idaho, beginning in 2019, as voted unanimously by presidents of Big Sky schools.
Ron Loghry, the Big Sky’s deputy commissioner, spoke with the Standard-Examiner and provided insight into the successes and failures in Reno, the schools’ decision to move the tournament, the business angle and more.
“Reno gave us the opportunity without damaging the conference to try a predetermined, neutral-site championship and see if it was something people liked and thought would work,” Loghry said. “In that regard, Reno has been a great success. At the time, Reno was the best bid that would hold us harmless.
“It hasn’t been a great success in drawing people there from our communities. That was something the committee knew going in … when they chose Reno, they said we know, for it to be a long-term success, the Reno community will have to play a major role as far as fans coming out.
“That was a lot of foresight and it came to fruition, that was really the one factor that made us change sites.
“I know it’s no consolation, but we told (Reno) it was a success enough or we wouldn’t be moving on. The fact that we even looked for another site and our schools had an appetite for trying to find a way to augment the championship further is a testament to how hard Reno worked to make it feel like a championship there.”
Seven Big Sky schools are within a four-hour drive of Boise, so the Big Sky is banking on better fan travel.
But, Loghry said in the process of relocating, they discovered sizeable groups of Big Sky alumni in the city. The conference expects University of Idaho to have a strong presence from the city itself.
“We were really excited when we matched up with Boise, it was kind of a fortuitous thing,” Loghry said.
He said he anticipates Idaho and Montana fans showing up in force, which the conference hopes will create a feeling of other fanbases not wanting to let those schools take over the arena.
Original Story: Big Sky moving basketball tournaments to Boise
Instead of a destination based on casino culture, conference and school officials feel Boise is more conducive to the fanbases across the conference.
Loghry said the Reno visitors bureau has done everything the Big Sky could’ve asked, but the excitement didn’t reach out into the community — something schools feel will change in Boise.
“When we meet with the people there, the arena … they’re very excited to have it there,” Loghry said. “They see it as a marquee event. They want to drive up sports events in that city.”
Boise is the fastest-growing city in the United States, according to a report from Forbes — which involves low costs, a healthy economy and a quickly growing tech presence.
Century Link Arena, in downtown Boise, was designed as a sports arena and not a multi-purpose events center, so Loghry said the experience for fans will improve.
Like Reno, Boise offered a low-risk option, monetarily, for schools to continue the championship-week format.
Loghry said the entities in Boise — the Idaho Sports Commission, the city of Boise, Century Link Arena and its main tenant, the Idaho Steelheads — have all combined to give the conference a guaranteed chunk of money to help the Big Sky pay for putting on the event. Additionally, there’s no rent for using the building.
“We feel wanted. These guarantees ... there’s about six entities putting into this pot of guarantee to the conference to bring us there. Everybody has a stake in this … they want to work to make it work.”
He also said those groups are working to deliver a corporate title sponsor for the tournament in Boise, with 100 percent of that revenue going to the conference and schools.
Four conferences — the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast Conference and WAC — stage their basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. Loghry said the Big Sky did look at joining the party, but it was a non-starter for the schools when compared to the rent-free options already on the table.
“(Rent) was approaching $1 million, so there really wasn’t much invitation there as opposed to these other communities that really want us,” he said. “Our schools aren’t going to lay out $1 million for a tournament. They shouldn’t do it.”
NEUTRAL-SITE BUY IN
While many fans across the conference, including Weber State fans, voice the desire to go back to the old format of letting the regular-season champion host, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the foreseeable future.
The neutral-site concept was sparked by coaches and players, especially the idea of giving players a rewarding postseason experience instead of playing at a site they’ve played before — not to mention the logistical problems solved by using a predetermined site.
“Going back to the regular-season champion hosting was never brought up,” Loghry said of the process that resulted in the move to Boise. “We’ve crossed that threshold to now make this work because it’s the best thing for the conference. It’s building a basketball identity.”
In September 2017, when the conference announced the move, Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said while he felt Ogden could still successfully host the tournament, the decision and emphasis by the conference to have a neutral-site host changed his mindset, and he thinks Boise will be more accessible for Wildcat fans.
Loghry said coaches have expressed the desire to change the conference tournament format to better give top seeds an advantage.
The basis of that consideration would be to make the women and men play in consecutive days, no longer giving a day off to low seeds after they play in the first round.
The conference has in-person meetings with coaches in April. Loghry anticipated to formalize their wishes and take it to administrators in their yearly meeting in May for a final look at making changes.
This is part one of two in a conversation with Big Sky deputy commissioner Ron Loghry about the state of the conference. Coming Thursday is a look at what changing conference membership means for sports schedules, possible expansion and more.
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