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Local Economy a Winner in Big West Tournament

March 08, 1992|PAUL McLEOD

There will be so much parity this year at the 17th annual Big West Tournament that any one of the eight men's and eight women's basketball teams that qualify for this five-day event could emerge victorious in their respective races.

But as the postseason tournament begins play Wednesday at the Long Beach Arena, the biggest winners appear to be basketball fans, merchants in the seaside city and university coffers.

Fans have the opportunity to see some of the most competitive collegiate basketball on the West Coast for as little as $10 a ticket, or $60 for a weekend pass. Both the men's and women's teams from Cal State Long Beach are expected to qualify. But the perennial men's favorite, Nevada Las Vegas, is ineligible for postseason play as part of NCAA sanctions imposed in 1977, which gives all the other teams a break.

Downtown businessmen in Long Beach love the tournament because by the time it culminates with the men's championship game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the event will have attracted an additional 12,000 people along the shoreline. That means, among other things, an increase in shopping and dining and an additional 1,500 hotel rooms rented out. It all adds up to a gross take of $3 million by merchants, not to mention those coin-hungry downtown parking meters.

In terms of revenue generated for the Big West Conference, the tournament ranks second only to broadcast and cable TV royalties. It grosses more than $550,000 annually. The conference headquarters in Santa Ana scrapes about $53,000 off the top for expenses, then cuts a check to each member university for $16,000.

In an era when the popularity of postseason tournaments seems to be ebbing (the Pacific-10 did away with its tournament two seasons ago), the single-elimination Big West Tournament has carved a niche for itself. It is the longest-running postseason basketball tournament in the West, dating back to 1976 when the conference was known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. The initial event, which included men's teams only, was held at the Stockton Civic Auditorium and the winner was San Diego State, which defeated host University of the Pacific, 76-64.

It is worth noting that after 1979, San Diego State jumped to the Western Athletic Conference (better known as the WAC) and has advanced to postseason play just one time since.

In 1984, the Big West added a women's tournament, but it was not until two years ago that all women's games were played on the same floor as the men in Long Beach.

Besides a couple of nice-size trophies, the champions receive automatic berths into the respective men's and women's NCAA tournaments. Just making it into the first round of the 64-team men's tournament generates an additional $200,000 as part of the NCAA's revenue-sharing policy from its multimillion-dollar national television package. There is a smaller take for the women's teams that advance into NCAA play, but in these financially difficult times, most universities are not complaining.

The only complaint you will hear will be from City Hall if the Big West pulls a surprise move and takes its tournament elsewhere after its contract with Long Beach expires in 1993. The event goes to bid later this spring, with a decision expected in May.

"The thing that is nice about Long Beach is that the hotels are all within walking distance of the arena," said Big West Associate Commissioner Dennis Farrell. "Long Beach has really been ideal for us."

NAME: Big West Tournament

WHERE: Long Beach Arena

WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday

FOUNDED: 1976

TV: SportsChannel and ESPN cable

MEMBER SCHOOLS: Nevada Las Vegas, Fresno State, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, San Jose State, New Mexico State, University of the Pacific, Utah State, UC Irvine, Hawaii (women only) and UC Santa Barbara.

FORMAT: The top eight men's and women's teams play single elimination, culminating in a championship, with an automatic berth into the NCAA postseason tournament for the winners. The teams have been competing for seeding positions during the regular season.

SCHEDULE: Wednesday, women's quarterfinal games at 1, 3, 7 and 9 p.m.; Thursday, women's semifinals at 7 and 9 p.m.; Friday, men's quarterfinals at 1, 3, 7 and 9 p.m.; Saturday, women's final at 3 p.m.; men's semifinals at 7 and 9 p.m.; March 15, men's final at 12:30 p.m.

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