“I've been very enthused by people's response once they got here,” Big Sky Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry said. “That includes administrators, coaches, student-athletes and fans. Even people who were questioning if this could work are now 100 percent behind it.”
The tournament began Monday, March 7, and finished with both the men’s and women’s championship games Saturday. Loghry said many schools and fans began arriving Sunday, ready to enjoy the event.
Fans boarded at the many hotels within one block of the Reno Events Center, the host site for the Big Sky basketball championships.
“With the hotels one block away, to see the student-athletes, administrators and fans over there mingling are exactly what we pictured this could be,” Loghry said. “So we're very enthused by that.”
Loghry said despite it being the Big Sky’s first neutral-site rodeo, they did everything they could to prepare. Most every operation in Reno appeared to go quite well, and he credited his staff — especially Jon Kasper, assistant commissioner over championships — for getting the job done.
“I have trust in our staff. I knew the trains would run on time, the games would go, the floor, the clocks, those would be flawless. We left nothing to chance there,” Loghry said. “That part of it has gone beyond-belief well. Our feedback from coaches and student-athletes has been incredible.”
Kasper said the Big Sky staff has been working from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day in a tiring, but rewarding and exciting, experience.
“The best part has been to see the student-athletes, the administrators and the fans — we knew what they would experience when they came here, and it's come to fruition,” Kasper said. “The student-athletes have nothing but good things to say, the fans are enjoying themselves. To see our basketball fans interact with each other, we've never had that before.”
Loghry said schools have given feedback for improvements, like more staged fan events, and the conference knows that despite a good first run, it must improve for 2017, citing a work room with whiteboards full of ideas for next year.
“Next year, you're not going to come here and have us standing here saying 'It's just like last year.' We know this has to step up. More video scoreboards, fan zones, things we didn't have access to this year,” Loghry said.
Once the week began, Loghry said the buy-in has been 100 percent from all 12 schools, who have now vowed to bring more personnel to step up the experience next season.
Loghry acknowledged skeptics may remain in fanbases throughout the conference. He said fans at home should use fellow fans who did travel to Reno as a barometer for the event.
“I'd ask them to ask their fellow fans who came,” he said. “I had fans stopping me when we had our Big Sky shirts on the first couple days, saying this is incredible, this is fun, this is really cool.”
Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee echoed that sentiment.
“I know there are a lot of people at home who ... didn't think it would work or didn't want to support it because we should be at home tonight. I get that, I would absolutely rather be at home,” Bovee said. “But it is here, so I hope for the future we can get our fans to come and have a good time together.”
“I've talked to a lot of our fans here who have had a good time,” Bovee said.
“Was it a slam dunk, home run?” Kasper asked. “In our eyes, maybe it was. It fans eyes, maybe it wasn't. Be we know we're going to grow it and get better.”
Contact reporter Brett Hein at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @bhein3.