There are plenty of tickets available for this week's 76 Classic at… (Alex Gallardo / Reuters )
The fifth 76 Classic basketball tournament begins Thursday at the Anaheim Convention Center and, as always, plenty of seats are available.
The tournament was created and is managed by ESPN with the main purpose of providing holiday weekend television counter-programming to football.
In fact, the three-day tournament takes a day off, an acknowledgment that Saturday football is in charge. The basketball is played Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
"We love it if the stands are filled," said Arnie Sgalio, ESPN's senior director of programming. "But this is, for us, alternative television programming and because of the location in Southern California and because we have relationships with many teams, that allows us to have pretty good fields."
Attendance, sensibly, is helped when either USC or UCLA is in the field.
The first 76 Classic, in 2007, featured USC with O.J. Mayo and the four-day attendance was 9,902. A year later, without USC or UCLA, it dropped to 8,303. In 2009, UCLA was in the field and the tournament had record attendance of 14,212. Last year, with Cal State Northridge the most local team participating but with Stanford in the field, the number dropped to 12,048.
This year's field of eight does not include a nationally ranked team, but does have historically high-achieving programs such as Villanova, Boston College and Oklahoma; a Big West Conference team, UC Riverside; and a Pac-12 Conference team, Washington State. There's also New Mexico, with UCLA transfer Drew Gordon; Santa Clara, which is coached by former UCLA assistant Kerry Keating; and St. Louis, whose coach, Rick Majerus, once accepted the USC head coaching job for a day.
Two years ago, two 76 Classic teams — Butler and West Virginia — ended up playing in the Final Four.
Villanova Coach Jay Wright and Lon Kruger, in his first year at Oklahoma after coming from 2010 76 Classic champion Nevada Las Vegas, both said they enjoyed the three-games-in-four-days format.
"I think this is the best," Wright said. "I really like having the day off on Saturday. It's good to enjoy where you are for a day."
Said Kruger: "Three games in four days are good from the standpoint of finding out where you are conditioning-wise, but also giving you a chance to take a breath."