Pac-10 tourney thrills Huskies

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Monday, October 23, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Bob Bender doesn’t need to imagine the scenario, because he has experienced it.

He calls a promising high school recruit in early March to promote the University of Washington men’s basketball program. Then he hears a television in the background and learns that the kid is immersed in, what else, college basketball.

Bender says his conversation with the youngster might go like this:

“He’ll say, ‘I’m watching the Big East championship tournament on TV.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, we’ve got the Pac-10 championship going on here, too. But it’s just one game.’ “

That’s been a problem for Pacific-10 Conference basketball coaches.

While all the other major Division I conferences are garnering the excitement – plus national exposure and TV dollars – of their postseason tournaments, the Pac-10 simply winds down its home-and-home schedule to determine the league champion.

That will all change next season.

Pac-10 chief executive officers on Monday decided to establish postseason conference tournaments in both men’s and women’s basketball, beginning in March 2002.

The men’s tournament, for the top eight teams in the regular season, will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The women’s tournament, for all 10 teams, will be hosted on campus by one of the league members.

Tournament champions will get the conference’s automatic bids to the NCAA Tournaments, but the hope is that the league tournaments will create at-large bids for more teams.

“It’s huge,” said UW women’s basketball coach June Daugherty. “It’s good for Washington. It’s good for the Pac-10 Conference. It’s good for women’s basketball on the West Coast. It’s one of the best things that’s happened in a long time in this conference.”

Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges said the conference has a six-year contract with Fox Sports to televise the tournaments.

“In a lot of ways it might be more of a benefit to the women’s programs because they’re still growing,” Hedges said. “It provides exposure that those programs need.”

The Pac-10 held a men’s postseason tournament from 1987-90, but it died for lack of interest and, of course, profit.

“Everything has changed since that time,” Hedges said. “I don’t think as many conferences around the country had tournaments then. But it’s very clear now that the Pac-10 is the only Division I-A conference that didn’t have a tournament. Once the Big 10 went to a tournament, it was something we had to take a look at.”

Few seem happier about it than the administrators and coaches, who foresee money and exposure that will improve their programs.

“It’s always been something that I thought the conference would benefit from,” Bender said. “When you’re in a tournament setting, exposure in the last week is much more national.”

And with such exposure comes a chance for more schools not only to draw recruits, but also for the league to send more teams to the NCAA Tournament.

“Hopefully it transfers into the possibility of more at-large bids,” Bender said. “Instead of traditional four, maybe there will be a fifth or a sixth.”

And best of all, say both Bender and Daugherty, a postseason tournament will give hope to teams that struggle during the regular season.

“In situations where teams are struggling a little, it creates an opportunity to keep kids motivated,” she said. “Maybe you cannot win the conference, but you have the opportunity to get to the conference tournament.”

Bender wouldn’t mind seeing the men’s tournament field at 10 instead of eight teams.

“I’m sure we might have some further discussion on that,” he said. “As coaches, we would really urge them to go to 10 teams. However, with 10 teams, you’ve got to play more games, and does that create an academic problem with more class time missed?”

As for the location in Los Angeles, Bender thinks that might change as well in the coming years.

“I think it will move eventually, but you’ve got to make a commitment to it in one location so it becomes a regular thing that people will look at with some consistency,” he said. “We’ve got great venues every location in the conference.”

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