For the West Coast Athletic Conference, the theme song for this year's basketball could be, "Let Us Entertain You."
The league that has traditionally been thought of as not ready for prime time will have a single-site tournament for the first time, and the championship game will be televised by ESPN.
Although no conference team has advanced past the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament since Pepperdine reached the second round in 1982, the WCAC had two teams in the tournament last season--regular-season champion San Diego and tournament winner Santa Clara--earning some respect. The league also saw more tangible results as well: Tournament dollars.
"We got the money from those two games, and that's what makes the machinery run," WCAC Commissioner Michael Gilleran said Tuesday at a media luncheon at Loyola Marymount.
This year's WCAC tournament will bring all eight teams to Santa Clara for three days. The final game will be played Monday, March 7, to accommodate ESPN. NCAA bids will have already gone out the day before. The WCAC tournament winner gets the league's automatic bid.
The league has high hopes this season, with Loyola and Pepperdine favored in a preseason media poll. The coaches on hand Tuesday--Loyola's Paul Westhead, Pepperdine's Jim Harrick and San Diego's Hank Egan--hedged their bets, predicting no clear favorite and a wide-open race involving Loyola, Pepperdine, Santa Clara and, possibly, Gonzaga and San Francisco.
The race is expected to be influenced by a number of transfers throughout the league from the Pacific 10. " 'Our transfers,' as everybody calls them," Gilleran said.
Loyola was the biggest transfer recipient with Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, both from USC, and Corey Gaines from UCLA. Pepperdine has Tom Lewis, another ex-Trojan.
Westhead, whose team was picked to win the race in the poll, noted that one basketball magazine rated Loyola last. "If there are seven teams better than us, we have a very strong conference," he said.