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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 233
Monday, March 14, 2005

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Tourney should put down roots in Memphis


Conference USA should consider renaming its postseason tournament. The Memphis Invitational is perhaps the more fitting title for the future.

Judging by the atmosphere in the FedEx Forum this past weekend, Beale Street should be the permanent home for C-USA's postseason party. Any other locale and the tournament could be a weekend snooze.

But that wouldn't have been the case this season.

League commissioner Britton Banowsky could have staged this year's tournament in Iceland and still had enough drama, national interest, and attendance to make it an intriguing event.

He has a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa than preserving that kind of appeal outside the City of Elvis moving forward.

With Charlotte, Cincinnati, Louisville et al bolting for new homes, the C-USA tournament inherits a new undesirable status. It will have neither the pageantry of the major conference spectacles nor the charm and urgency of the smaller conference tournaments.

As a result, attendance is almost certain to plummet and the national spotlight will dim. That is, unless Memphis becomes the permanent Hoopstown for C-USA.

But that would make too much sense.

Given the nature by which tournament locations are awarded in C-USA, it's unlikely that any site will become permanent. Schools and their cities bid for the rights annually and it has been rare for any site to host for consecutive years.

Memphis is the most viable option because it by far has the league's most complete program, along with the largest and most passionate fan base. It also is the only city with a sizable venue that would be filled to near capacity.

What's more, Memphis is one of few destinations to which fans from opposing schools would be willing to travel.

New Orleans certainly meets most of the criteria, but Tulane hardly has the fannies to help fill the seats at the New Orleans Arena. Ditto for Central Florida, which would be a great location aside from the empty seats at the O-rena.

That leaves only a handful of legitimate options.

Since Dallas has become the new center of the C-USA universe, it's a good bet that it will become a part of the tournament rotation. Take a wild guess how much attention that would demand in Big D.

Rest assured that UAB also will jockey to become a regular host. But who in their right mind wants to visit Boringham?

To put it mildly, C-USA is in a quandary when it comes to its postseason tournament. The league is too geographically unwieldy for a neutral location, and most schools either lack the facilities or enough passionate fans to generate a desirable atmosphere.

That's why Memphis should get first dibs at hosting.

Would that generate an unfair advantage for the Tigers? You bet it would.

Is that enough reason to keep Memphis from hosting on an annual basis? Not a chance.

As the new-look C-USA moves forward, Banowsky must consider all factors before settling on future tournament locations. Even if that means getting Elvis to sign the contract.

Dance should maintain status quo

Now we know why Maryland coach Gary Williams strongly favors a 128-team field for the NCAA Tournament. It's a sure-fire method for securing his Terrapins an invitation to the Dance.

America needs a Bigger Dance as much as it needs another bowl game in football. Much like football, a larger postseason hoops field would only water down the competition.

True, it would ensure that the best 64-plus teams actually compete for a national title — which the current set-up doesn't do — but it also would extinguish much of the tournament's charm.

Annually some of the more intriguing storylines include teams from one-bid conferences. Valparaiso, Hampton, Kent State, and Nevada have provided some of the biggest thrills over the past several seasons with improbable runs.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas recently argued that the NCAA Tournament should include only the 64 best teams and that conference champions shouldn't necessarily get an automatic bid.

Here's an idea, Jay. Why not use the Bowl Championship Series formula to decide the national title game?

It certainly would save a lot of time. And it would ruin one of the greatest spectacles in all of athletics, too.

High-profile hire unlikely

Forget the notion that East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland must hire a big-name hoops coach. More than likely, that won't happen.

Judging by the résumés of those who are believed to be among the candidates — Dave Dickerson, Anthony Grant, and Butch Pierre — the qualities Holland is seeking are pretty obvious.

Young, energetic, up-and-comers who are highly-regarded recruiters apparently have the edge in Holland's eye. The fact that all three are African-Americans suggests that a minority hire also appeals to the Pirates AD.

But before fans question Holland for not seeking a brand name coach, they should first consider this:

ECU football coach Skip Holtz makes less than $400 thousand. The price tag for a statement hire in basketball likely would exceed $600K.

Now when's the last time a basketball skipper commanded more money than the football coach at East Carolina?

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02/23/2007 01:59:39 AM

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