Courtesy Big Sky Conference
RENO, Nev. - Hosting a conference basketball tournament with 24 teams isn't easy, but the Big Sky Conference wouldn't have it any other way.
After decades of using a "hot-team host" system, where the regular season champion would host a limited field for the conference tourney, the Big Sky is moving both its men's and women's championship events to the Reno Events Center- a move that has paved the way for an exciting new future for Big Sky basketball.
Under the new format, every team in the conference, and every student-athlete in the conference, will have a postseason experience, with the top four teams on each side receiving first-round byes. Additionally, the site of the tournament was pre-determined, meaning fans are able to buy tickets and book travel accommodations well in advance of the March 7 tournament start.
Big Sky deputy commissioner Ron Loghry, who headed the committee tasked with finding a neutral site that would fit the league's personality and institutional profiles, said there were several reasons why a pre-determined neutral site was critical to the conference's stakeholders.
"Almost always, the tournament site wasn't determined until the last week or two of the season and most people couldn't go to the tournament on last-second notice," he said. "We had parents miss their kids' last games because it's somewhere they couldn't get to.
"Also, coaches saw the way we did the tournament only really served to promote two or three of our top programs. It just cycled through who was hosting all the time. Teams got to host, that propelled their program forward, and coaches felt it was just a vicious cycle where a lot of teams could never get involved."
Several cities bid on both tournaments, with several communities making strong arguments as to why they should host the Big Sky's basketball postseason. However, after deliberation and assessment, the bid put forth by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, in conjunction with several local businesses, proved to be the perfect fit for the Big Sky.
Loghry said the decision to move to Reno isn't about what other cities don't have; it's about what Reno does have.
"The decision to go to Reno was based on a number of factors, highlighted by the fact that Reno is the only site that bid on both championships to be played in the same, neutral facility," he said." Also, Reno is a great setting, and with the proximity of the team hotels to the arena, it will allow our fans to intermingle with each other."
The "hot-team host" formula wasn't without benefits, specifically for the regular-season champions, who were guaranteed to play in front of their home fans.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe, who hosted the Big Sky Tournament four times at the Dee Events Center, saw his team's advance to two NCAA tournaments in front of their home fans. However, Rahe said the move to Reno is a long-term move for the growth of the conference.
"Going neutral gives our fans a chance to make travel arrangements early," he said. "To have it at a destination site, where there's a lot of action going on, it's not just basketball; there's other things to do. I think it could help set up our conference to do better things down the road."
Perhaps no coach benefitted from the previous format quite like Montana coach Robin Selvig, who has led the Lady Griz to appearances in each Big Sky postseason tournament. Selvig's teams have hosted postseason conference tournaments 21 times, and claimed 19 trips to the Big Dance on their home floor.
However, Selvig noted how the move to Reno injects energy into the Big Sky Conference.
"It's going to be a new experience," said the Big Sky's all-time winningest coach. "I think new experiences are a good thing. I think the kids are excited about it."
While hosting a pre-determined, neutral-site tournament is new for the Big Sky Conference, one thing will remain consistent- the passion and hunger for Big Sky postseason basketball in early March.
Tickets are available for purchase at www.roadtoreno.com. Information on special-rate hotel accommodations are also available on the website, as well as other information regarding activities and events in the Reno-Tahoe area.