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Broncos must pony up to host WAC tourney

RENO, Nev. — Boise has the facilities. It has the hotel rooms. It has the airport. It has everything the Western Athletic Conference is looking for in a basketball tournament host city.

Now it just needs the WAC Tournament.

"Boise's a very realistic destination for this tournament," said Jeff Hurd, the league's senior associate commissioner.

And in order for the city to land the conference's premier event, it needs to submit more attractive bids, community support and a certain desire.

In short, it needs to follow the lead of New Mexico State, which outclassed the field with its bid for the 2007 and 2008 tournaments.

"When you want something, you have to go after it and do what you feel is necessary," said Maria Roth, the school's senior woman administrator and the coordinator of their hosting bid.

New Mexico State went after it.

The Aggies, first-year members of the WAC, teamed with state and city officials to produce a sweetheart deal for the league, defeating Boise among others for the two tournaments.

Host schools and cities must guarantee the league a dollar amount and must pay for expenses — travel, room and board — for all of the leagues teams.

It's an expensive endeavor. And, if the home team doesn't advance far in the tournament, often a money-losing one.

To New Mexico State, that didn't matter. The school was looking to make a splash in its new league with new coach Reggie Theus and a $23-million renovation to the Pan-American Center.

The Aggies guaranteed the league $400,000 — "a long distance," Hurd said, from any other bid. The school also proposed to split the profits equally among member institutions.

"We had to turn some heads with it," Roth said.

Counting expenses, each tournament would have to generate more than $1 million to make a profit, something Roth is confident the school can do. The bid was, in part, subsidized in part by the state and city.

"I was surprised. I think everyone was surprised," Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. "It was a very attractive bid and that's how the championships should be bid. I commend New Mexico State. They came in with a great offer and they deserve to host the tournament."

Now it's time for Boise to do the same. Outside of Reno — and Honolulu, which is an unlikely bidder because of the travel cost — Boise is the best destination place among WAC cities. Despite the Broncos' lagging attendance in recent seasons, the city has shown it can support good basketball as evidenced by the NCAA Tournament crowds.

"This would be a great place to have it. The crowds would be super. We've got some people that really like basketball," BSU coach Greg Graham said. "Boise would be a great place to hold the tournament. I don't want to say the conference would be surprised, but I think it would be real pleased with the event."

The conference, however, will have to be won over by dollars, the primary determining factor in awarding the tournaments. The conference tournaments, after all, were created to make money.

And Boise State can't do it alone. Though the bidding for the 2009 and 2010 tournaments will not be conducted until the fall of 2007, now is the time for Boise State to get the local business community and government organizations on board with its bid.

"We'll seek that kind of help. But without it, it's the athletic department's neck that's on the line," Bleymaier said. "We'd be willing to take some risk in it. We'd be able to take some loss. There's obviously value in hosting that tournament and having homecourt advantage, but it has to be reasonable."

That homecourt edge is why the BCS conferences hold their tournaments at neutral sites — to encourage fairness — and why one-bid leagues often play theirs on the regular-season champions' court — to help ensure their best team makes the NCAA Tournament.

Since the WAC isn't going to neutral sites (lack of central fan bases) and it's not going to the homecourt of the regular-season champ (not logistically feasible), someone can bid its way to a homecourt edge.

Gonzaga certainly benefited from having the West Coast Conference Tournament this week in Spokane. The Bulldogs squeaked by San Diego and Loyola Marymount in the semifinal and the championship game. The results might have been much different had those games been played away from the rabid Gonzaga fans at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Boise State knows what the homecourt advantage can do. The last two times the Broncos hosted their conference tournament — the Big Sky tourneys in 1989 and 1994 — they won the title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. It's one reason Boise State continues to bid for the conference tournament.

"It's sincere," Bleymaier said. "We have a sincere interest in hosting the WAC Tournament."

And as any coach or good bid organizer will tell you, when you want something bad enough, you do what's necessary.