Even though the Mountain West Conference conducted its annual meetings in Arizona this past week, Las Vegas was heavy on the agenda of councils, committees and representatives of the university presidents that govern the league.
The dust has not settled on what transpired in the Thomas & Mack last March in the MWC Tournament. A welcome reprieve from the disaster in Denver, the tournament got back on track making money and drawing fans to this resort destination spot, but it wasn't without controversy.
Two issues surfaced last week: First, security and safety of fans, athletes, coaches and band members. Second, the competitive fairness of holding the event on the home court of UNLV, which has made it to the finals nearly every year and won it the past two seasons, capturing the automatic NCAA berth.
"There were a lot of items discussed," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, "but perhaps the biggest discussions were about those two items."
Funny thing is, the near riot conditions following the BYU-UNLV finale was something foreign to most administrators of the league's schools. They simply were not present to witness the dangerous banana republic soccer-like fist-fighting, shoving and bloodied faces that preceded the handing out of awards.
"Our administration has received feedback from fans who attended the tournament that they are not going back," said Holmoe. UNLV's athletic director Mike Hamrick acknowledged there was a problem and also recognizes the home-court advantage.
What to do? The meetings were about seeking solutions.
The MWC has two more years on its contract to hold the tournament in Las Vegas, at the Thomas & Mack. At the very least, some suggested there have to be armed policemen present to at least provide a face of meaningful authority to control crowd behavior.
Right now, it's basically 70-year-old men in red coats. That won't do.
There is also the issue of placing fans of one team right next to fans of another inviting disaster. That should have been a no-brainer.
Fixing security might sound simple, but it isn't. The Thomas & Mack is on the campus of UNLV, but it is routinely rented out for public events. While the MWC is the one contracting the arena and is in charge of the event, the league has accepted the Thomas & Mack as operators and custodians as part of the package. To bring in a third-party security agent would take some work, but it could be done.
Las Vegas is a prime destination spot for all MWC schools. Another non-BCS league, the West Coast Conference, has already signed up to make the Orleans Hotel its conference tournament site and will end on a Monday. The MWC starts its tournament on a Tuesday. Could moving the MWC event to the Orleans be an option?
Possibly, but it isn't the only one under consideration, according to Holmoe. The new basketball coaches in the league, new faces at New Mexico, Air Force, Wyoming, CSU and Utah, represent a formidable voting bloc.
These rookies got one taste of UNLV's home court and asked, "What in the world is this? What are we doing?"
Holmoe said he "underlined and starred" the agenda item of finding a new venue. "I'll do everything I can to get the tournament to a neutral site for the simple sake of fair competition."
He will be in the majority.
Anaheim? Phoenix? "There are plenty of places that would be considered a destination city for fans and would be easy to get to," said Holmoe. "It should be in a warm climate, and it needs to be accessible to fans in the league."
But for now, the league will play basketball in Las Vegas and it will be on the home court of a league member.
There's the option to continue it there for one more year at the end of the two remaining years.
So, in the end, perhaps the most timely issue of this popular event is safety. The NBA all-star game didn't have issues or riots. But that event is more of a grade-school participation ribbon ceremony than a blood and guts, highly intense atmosphere created by league rivals fighting for a chance to play in the Big Dance.
Perhaps the league's best option is to present uniformed officers with side arms, mace, pepper spray and billy clubs. They don't have to use the armament, but it would deliver a clear and present message: Get out of line, There Will Be Blood.Until some MWC fans grow up, that's not a bad idea.
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