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Pond Is Site of Basketball West Regionals in '98, 2001

NCAA: Home of the Ducks also will host 1999 Division I hockey finals.

March 15, 1997|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Presently a stranger to March Madness, the Pond soon will become acquainted with college basketball's annual party. And at breakneck speed.

The Pond will host the NCAA tournament's West Regional in 1998, marking its first tournament involvement since the arena opened in 1993. But the crash course for organizers won't end with the event's final buzzer.

The Pond will host the NCAA Division I hockey finals in 1999. NCAA officials also have awarded the West Regional to the Pond for the 2000-01 season. That's two regionals in four years after none in the Pond's first four.

"This is something we've wanted for some time and it's very important to us," said Brad Mayne, general manager of the Pond. "In terms of sports events, this is really the elite of the elite. We can't wait."

Joining the fraternity of NCAA tournament sites will enhance the Pond's status and provide revenue for Orange County businesses. Moreover, tournament participation might signal a departure from the county's recent inability--or unwillingness--to support high-profile sports events. Or at least that's what everyone doing the planning hopes.

Tickets, available through mail order from the Pond, go on sale Monday.

Organizers expect to have a pool of about 8,000 tickets for the three games, the semifinals and regional championship. Tickets cost $70 each for the entire regional and are limited to eight per order.

"I don't think we're going to have a problem selling tickets," Mayne said. "People realize how special the NCAA tournament is."

The exact financial impact of the West Regional is hard to determine. The four teams participating in the regional will each receive 1,250 tickets. Potentially, that's 5,000 out-of-towners contributing to the local economy.

"It's very high profile, but it's really not an extremely lucrative event for the arenas," said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum and Sports Arena, which played host to the West Regional in 1993-94. "You don't produce that much more [revenue] than you would for, say, the NBA playoffs.

"Where you really find the impact is in the community as fans spend on rental cars, and at the hotels and at restaurants while they're in town. That's where the big money is."

The Big West Conference led the charge to bring the tournament to the Pond. The conference is the primary organizer, working in conjunction with the Pond and the Anaheim and Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Bringing the tournament here is not only good for the Big West, it's good for Orange County," said Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell, who will be tournament director for the West Regional at the Pond.

Only a conference or NCAA-member institution can bid for the tournament. Big West officials started their pursuit of the 1997-98 West Regional in the summer of 1994, putting together a preliminary proposal that dealt with arena availability, hotel space, access and the rest for the Division I Men's Basketball Committee to review.

Committee members liked what they saw and the conference made the first cut. From there, the conference submitted budget projections.

Rob Halvaks, Big West associate commissioner, was the conference's point man on the proposal. He also will manage the regionals.

"As a conference, we felt we were in a good position with the NCAA to host this type of an event," Halvaks said. "And more importantly, because of our conference roots in Orange County, we felt this was the type of an event we needed to bring here."

Just how important the tournament is to the Big West and Pond was evident last summer when they again joined forces to secure their second regional. This despite still planning next season's event.

The NCAA signed up again. Understandably, everyone involved looked at the move as a vote of confidence.

"That was kind of a surprise for us," Halvaks said. "We were actually kind of pleased with just getting to the final round of the budget process because we haven't even hosted [next season's] regional yet. We feel the committee's decision is a credit to the conference and the Pond."

Throughout both processes, the Pond was a key. Dan Calandro, director of operations for Division I men's basketball, said the arena is exactly what the committee looks for in a tournament site.

"The Pond is a good site, and it's located in a good region for us to be in," Calandro said. "The fact that the Pond is a new facility, and just the realization that the Pond is a good place to be, factored into the decision [to award the second regional]."

Still, the Pond is a neophyte in the world of big-time college basketball. For the last three years it has been home to the John R. Wooden Classic. Long Beach State and Memphis played there during the 1993-94 season.

In the Southland, the Sports Arena hosted the Final Four (1967-68, 1971-72), as has the San Diego Sports Arena (1974-75). UCLA's Pauley Pavilion has had a number of West Regionals.

Beginning with this season, Final Fours will be played exclusively in domed stadiums--and there are no domes in these parts. "Before, Orange County couldn't go after such a prestigious event because it didn't have the arena to do it," said Mayne. "Now that we have the vehicle here, the NCAA is rewarding us."

The regionals should provide positive exposure that might help the county attract additional major sports events, officials said. The county's recent track record, after all, hasn't been so great.

In 1995, the Freedom Bowl ended its 11-year run at Anaheim Stadium because of insufficient funding and dwindling local interest. That came on the heels of the demise of the preseason Disneyland Pigskin Classic, whose 1994 game ended a lackluster five-year run.

Disney that year dropped its sponsorship of the game, which never drew more than 49,309 despite some marquee matchups. Even the Wooden Classic, despite its high-profile games, has seen its attendance drop each season.

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