Both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments for the Big Sky Conference will be hosted at a neutral site in Reno, Nevada for the next three years, Big Sky officials announced today.
“Our committee is confident Reno provides us the best opportunity to showcase our men’s and women’s basketball programs in a neutral, predetermined setting,” said Big Sky Conference Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry, according to a press release issued by the conference.
The Reno Events Center in Reno’s downtown area will play host to the league tournament starting in the 2015-16 season. With a driving distance of less than 150 miles from the new site, Sac State will be the Big Sky school with the shortest travel time by far. The next two closest schools in the conference, Portland State and Southern Utah University, are each more than 500 miles away from the Events Center by bus.
Sac State Director of Athletics Bill Macriss served as a member of the committee established by the Big Sky to select a neutral venue for the tournament.
“As the athletic director at Sacramento State, I’m excited, not just because of the fact that Reno is so close and our fans will be able to travel and plan to attend our championships for both the men and women, but I think that it’s going to be a good move for the league,” Macriss said. “It’s a chance over the next three years to see if doing the tournament like most other conferences, all other conferences out west do it, is the right way to do it.”
In previous years, the No. 1 seed in each tournament received hosting rights, including this March, in which the University of Montana hosted both the men’s and women’s tournaments from its home gym. This site was not determined on the men’s side until the Grizzlies took the conference title on the final day of the regular season on March 7—just five days before the start of the event.
Going forward, Big Sky will also move toward a reworked seeding system. Starting in 2015-16, all 12 teams in the conference will participate in the tournament. Though the details have not been ironed out yet, this likely means that high-seeded teams will be given first-round byes, Macriss said.
The Reno venue will be able to accommodate crowds of about 5,000. Macriss said that the intent was to find a location that offered to bring the tournament a level of energy that was lacking when the hosting site could be determined as late as the last day of the regular season, which made travel logistics difficult.
“What Reno provides is, first off, the majority of 12 schools’ fans are all going to be under one roof in terms of hotels, restaurants,” Macriss said. “You’re going to be running into each other all week long, seeing each other every day. The venue is one block from the hotels. So from a location standpoint, everybody’s fans show up, you can all be under one roof, you’re all going to walk over to the arena together. You’re going to have that kind of energy.”
The committee, which included Loghry, began its search in the fall and started traveling to potential sites in the spring.
Reno was one of five finalists that the committee considered. Spokane, Washington; Ogden, Utah; Billings, Montana; and Missoula, Montana made up the other four.
Sac State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz expressed support for the decision.
“It should be on a neutral court,” Katz said. “Again, I felt like our league was out of step with the times, so to speak. You know, the tournaments turned out to be a prelude to March Madness. The intrigue, the upsets, anything can happen. Everybody and anybody has a chance. Now we have that.”
Katz was also enthusiastic about the conference’s decision to include all 12 teams in the tournament.
“Teams that are struggling early on, maybe fell out, had tough times, will never give up,” Katz said. “That will make the regular season games even better. And it’s just a great feeling that, no matter what happens—you can have injuries, you can have every problem in the world—but it’s all going to come down to three days or four days in Reno. I mean, that’s great for everybody.”