One arena not enough

One arena not enough

May 30th, 2009 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Staff File Photo by Dan Henry Fans prepares for the Davidson vs App State basketball game Saturday. The Davidson Wildcats won over the Appalacian State Mountaineers with a final score of 84-68 during session 3 game 5 of the Southern Conference Basketball Championships held at the McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday, March 7, 2009.

The 2011 Southern Conference men's and women's basketball tournaments could be the last held in Chattanooga - at least for a long time.

The SoCon's athletic directors wrapped up their spring meetings at Hilton Head, S.C., on Friday by voting for a two-venue format for future tournaments, starting in 2012.

"I think we had to do something," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said. "The general consensus ... was that the present format was just not working."

Next year's tournament in Charlotte, N.C., will use two arenas, but the 2011 tournaments will be played at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena. The plan is to use two venues in the same city in 2012 and beyond.

By going to two venues, that will eliminate the largely unpopular 9 a.m. women's second-round game, as well as the six-game schedule on the second day of the event. It will also free court time for teams to practice at the tournament site.

The two-venue format, most recently used during the 2006 tournaments in Charleston, S.C., will have the men and women at separate arenas through the quarterfinals before merging at one site for the semifinals and finals.

"It's similar to the format used previously," UTC athletic director Rick Hart said, "but the one key difference is that the two venues will have to be pre-approved and have to be of championship caliber. In our situation, that means Maclellan (Gym) would probably not meet that criteria."

Maclellan Gym was used when UTC hosted the 2005 tournaments, but McKenzie Arena was the only venue used this March. Iamarino said the conference wants to ensure a comparable tournament experience for the men and the women, and since UTC likely wouldn't play women's games there during the regular season, it wouldn't be a suitable venue for the tournament.

Scott Smith, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee, said he wasn't sure how the SoCon vote would ultimately affect Chattanooga's viability as a host site.

"When we hosted in 2005, I didn't think we had any problems (with Maclellan)," he said. "I don't know if we've got another venue in town that would meet their needs. We don't have another McKenzie Arena.

"We had hoped to be in the mix for the tournament as often as we could get it."

The possibility of losing Chattanooga as a host city was a concern, Iamarino said.

"Perhaps as we put those specs together (for the criteria for future venues), maybe there is something that would keep Chattanooga in play," he said. "Certainly I would favor that."

While no bids are presently on the table for 2012, among the Southeast cities with two suitable venues that could be good fits are Charleston, Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C. For cities such as Charleston and Birmingham to host, that would likely require the use of on-campus venues, such as the College of Charleston's new Carolina First Arena or Samford's Pete Hanna Center.

Hart said one key component to the two-venue format that needs to be set is the staggering of game times so a school's men's and women's teams are not playing at the same time.

The athletic directors also voted to keep the 20-game women's conference basketball schedule, rather than cutting it to 18 games, which the coaches had approved in a close vote earlier in the week. The vote among the athletic directors was not close, Hart said; nor was it close on the tournament vote.

"There wasn't a lot of sentiment to disrupt the schedule that we have now," Hart said.

The issue of conference games conflicting with exam schedules needs to be addressed, he said, but solutions can be found that don't create an unbalanced schedule.