Sacramento State appears finally to have found an arena capable of hosting the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament.
It’s in Reno.
Unable to find a suitable location in the greater Sacramento area, Big Sky officials are leaning toward hosting the annual postseason championship tournament at the Reno Events Center if California State University, Sacramento, winds up as host team. The center, a block east of the city’s major casino hotels, seats 4,500 for basketball and can be expanded to just more than 5,000, arena officials said.
“At this point, unless something comes up between now and then ... Reno is the one in play,” Big Sky Senior Associate Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry said Tuesday.
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Moving the tournament to Reno would be a blow to Sacramento officials, depriving the region’s hotels and restaurants of several days worth of tourist visits. It would also create something of a public relations embarrassment for the community and the university. CSUS officials said they’re still trying to find a way to keep the tournament in Sacramento but would plan to go to Reno if that’s the only viable alternative.
“It would be unfortunate for everybody involved,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission. “We’d certainly love to see the teams come to Sacramento and the economic impact that comes with that.”
Loghry said he toured three sites late last week with CSUS officials: a conference center at McClellan Park, Delta College in Stockton and the Reno facility. In his report back to league Commissioner Doug Fullerton, he said the McClellan and Stockton venues, with about 3,000 seats each, were inadequate.
He said transferring the tournament to Reno would require a vote of the presidents of the Big Sky universities.
CSUS would have the right to host the postseason tournament for the first time ever if the Hornets win the regular-season championship. The team is in first place, a half game ahead of Eastern Washington, and has won its last seven games.
The problem is that the team’s on-campus arena, the 1,102-seat Hornets Nest, isn’t nearly large enough to host the conference tournament. Other locations in Sacramento are booked for all or part of the March 12-14 tournament weekend, including Sleep Train Arena, Memorial Auditorium and the UC Davis Pavilion.
Sophia said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has gotten involved in the search for an alternative, and university officials said they’re anxious to keep the tournament in the area.
“We’re going to try to find a solution that works locally,” said Bill Macriss, interim athletic director at CSUS . “That’s the best option for our student-athletes ... and our fans.”
The final outcome could depend on the Hornets’ on-court performance; if the Hornets don’t win the regular season title, the tournament automatically goes elsewhere and the issue becomes moot. But even though the team has seven games left, and the regular season doesn’t end until March 7, the clock is winding down quickly on CSUS . Loghry said Big Sky officials need to know within 10 days or so which venue the university has designated for hosting the tournament.
“We’re trying to give them as much leeway as possible,” Loghry said. If the Hornets win the regular season but can’t or won’t host the tournament, the team that finishes second would take over.
Macriss said CSUS President Alexander Gonzalez’s plan is to have the university host the tournament, “regardless of where that would be.”
Even if the games are played in Reno, being the home team might still give the Hornets a better chance of winning the tournament – and catapulting the Hornets into their first-ever spot in the NCAA basketball tournament. Reno is a two-hour drive, close enough that CSUS fans could attend.
Macriss said a Sacramento-area location obviously would be preferable to taking the games outside the region.
“Knowing we still have some time, we haven’t stopped the process,” he added.
The Hornets Nest was deemed unsuitable for the conference tournament in 1996 when Sacramento State joined the Big Sky. The university agreed back then that it would find a different tournament site if it won the regular season. Macriss began looking for alternatives to the Nest last summer, when it became clear the team had a chance of winning the regular season.
Besides not having enough seats, Big Sky officials said, the Nest doesn’t have adequate facilities for ESPN, which is broadcasting the championship game March 14.
The Reno facility has a Sacramento connection. It’s home to the Reno Bighorns, the Kings’ affiliate in the NBA Development League.
“If that option works out, we’d love to have them,” said Joe Kelley, the Events Center’s vice president of facilities. “It would be a great venue for it, a great city for it.
“Not that I have anything against Sacramento,” he added.
Hosting this year’s tournament could serve as a dry run for Reno. The Big Sky is considering moving the tournament to a neutral site starting in 2016, and the Events Center has put in a bid for the honor.
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.
All booked up
Major facilities in greater Sacramento are booked the weekend of March 12-14, when the Big Sky basketball tournament is held.
▪ Sleep Train Arena: Marvel Universe Live
▪ Memorial Auditorium: Legacy Dance Championships
▪ UC Davis Pavilion: women’s gymnastics meet
▪ Spanos Center, UOP, Stockton: police fundraiser
▪ Stockton Arena: Stockton Thunder hockey