This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In March, men's and women's basketball players will enjoy winning Big Sky Conference championships on the court in Reno, Nev.
Ron Loghry already enjoyed his own celebratory moment with that floor, when it was only partly painted. Just seeing the Big Sky logo being applied in the middle of the court "gave me chills," the conference's deputy commissioner said.
As the specially-made floor itself illustrates, the Ogden-based Big Sky at last will stage a tournament that looks and feels like its own production.
After more than two decades of holding conference tournaments at host schools and many years of discussion, the Big Sky is moving to the 5,000-seat Reno Events Center. Some unknowns accompany the plan specifically, how many fans from Weber State, Southern Utah and the other 10 schools will attend the event? Yet conference administrators welcome the neutral venue and the opportunity to bring 12 men's and 12 women's teams to one site. The "Road to Reno" will give athletes more of a genuine tournament experience, outside of a campus arena.
The three-year contract with Reno, beginning with the March 7-12 event, came after studies of five finalists, including Ogden. Weber State's Dee Events Center had some advantages, including the fact the Wildcats lead the Big Sky in men's basketball attendance, providing some assurance of fan support. But that's not a neutral site, and hotels are not nearby, as in Reno.
The tradeoff with Reno is there's obviously no built-in fan base as in the past, when the men's and women's regular-season champions hosted separate tournaments. So the challenge is to get fans to Reno via a major marketing effort. The predetermined site has its pluses, though, in contrast to previous years when the host school often was not determined until the final week of the season.
It's not a perfect scenario, because four teams receiving byes into the quarterfinals, so some schools won't know what day they'll play their first tournament games until the schedule is set. So fans either must drive to Reno, commit to flights early in the week or guess where their teams will finish in or out of the top four. "We hope the standings figure themselves out early," Loghry said.
The Big Sky also hopes that during these three years (or longer), fans will come to think of Reno as an annual destination and join in a conference-wide celebration. Such a feeling is generated in Las Vegas, where four conferences that include Utah schools the West Coast, Mountain West, Pac-12 and Western Athletic hold their tournaments.
The MW case is slightly different, being played at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center. Staged in hotel-connected arenas, the other conferences have more intermingling among fans. That's one of the Big Sky's hopes, with its two hotel partners very close to the convention center.
Loghry labels the move to Reno "an abrupt change" for the conference office, because Big Sky employees had just an oversight role at the campus venues, where the schools were used to staging basketball games. Now, the conference is in charge of everything, right down to the music and videos in the arena. They're also staging one of the biggest tournaments in the world with 24 teams topping the MW's 22, and that league is downsizing after this year.
Naturally, Loghry is eager to experience the first year in Reno, where "we'll find out a lot of what we didn't know we had to do," he said.
It is a big undertaking, but the Big Sky is driven to make it work. Everybody wants to know what criteria the conference is using for judging the event's success. Attendance is one factor, but the rest is more difficult to quantify. Maybe it is merely the fact that the No. 12 men's or women's team in the league gets to play another game, in a championship environment.