Jeff Robbins can see it clearly. Thousands of fans in powder blue, cardinal red, thunder green and every other shade of Pac-12 pouring into Salt Lake City. Practices at the Zions Bank Basketball Center and the Huntsman Center, raucous games at EnergySolutions Arena.
If there’s one thing Salt Lake City can do, he says, it’s host a big-time sporting event.
Whether that will include future Pac-12 men’s basketball tournaments, however, is growing less likely as Las Vegas emerges as the favorite to host the four-day tournament.
Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission, spearheaded a proposal to lure the men’s tournament to Salt Lake City in 2013 and 2014. This year’s tournament begins on Wednesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which is expected to be the last year at the venue after 11 seasons. The women’s tournament will run concurrently at USC’s Galen Center.
“We really haven’t received any information,” Robbins said. “We’re a little bit like everybody else, just waiting to see. The only thing we were told is they were hoping to hear around the conference tournament.”
According to multiple media reports, including one in the San Jose Mercury News, the Pac-12 is expected to announce this week that future tournaments will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Mark Powell, the vice president of events at EnergySolutions Arena, said he has not heard from the Pac-12 in more than two weeks, leading him to believe that the conference, despite expressing interest in Utah’s proposal, will go another direction.
“I suspect it’s going to go to Vegas,” he said, “but they have not confirmed that.”
Las Vegas already hosts three conference tournaments: the Mountain West at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center and the WAC and WCC at the Orleans Arena.
It will come as little surprise if the Pac-12 ultimately decides to end its relationship with Los Angeles.
The tournament drew 84,477 fans over four days in 2007, the first year the tournament expanded to included all 10 teams. Last year, the final year of the Pac-10, just 56,051 people attended in that time span, including 12,074 for a title game between traditional powers Washington and Arizona that went to overtime.
That’s a lot of empty seats in a 19,060-seat arena at what is supposed to be a premier event.
“I’ve gone to it a number of years in L.A.,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “If the L.A. teams aren’t playing, it’s hard; there’s a lot of empty seats.”
Powell and Robbins both said the fact the tournament would have Salt Lake City all to itself appealed to the conference. Robbins, however, acknowledged the appeal of moving it to Las Vegas.
“Certainly Las Vegas has been aggressive in the sports-related marketplace in targeting key events and putting the appropriate resources into going after them,” he said.
Krystkowiak, in his first year with the Utes, said he supported the idea of a Las Vegas tournament, saying a neutral site in a vibrant destination town would have the potential to draw a larger crowd.
“You’d have a chance, I think of crowd-wise, even people that didn’t have a team,” he said. “If you were a basketball fan looking to go watch a conference tournament, it’s pretty good basketball. ‘Hey I’m going to go to Vegas for the weekend.’ ”
Not Pac-ingthe house
Attendance has consistently declined at the Pac-12 Tournament
2002 — 67,819
2003 — 63,633
2004 — 60,126
2005 — 62,147
2006 — 74,801*
2007 — 84,477
2008 — 81,809
2009 — 77,452
2010 — 62,292
2011 — 56,051
* The first year the Pac-10 tournament included every conference team. Previously, the top eight teams qualified.
Source: Pac-12 Conference
Pac-12 Tournament Schedule
March 7-11, Staples Center (Los Angeles)
Wednesday (all times MT)
• (8) Washington State vs. (9) Oregon State, 1 p.m.
• (5) UCLA vs. (12) USC, 3:30 p.m.
• (7) Stanford vs. (10) Arizona State, 7 p.m.
• (6) Colorado vs. (11) Utah, 9:30 p.m.
• (8) Washington vs. (9) Oregon, 1 p.m.
• (5) UCLA vs. (12) Arizona, 3:15 p.m.
• (7) Utah vs. (10) Colorado, 6 p.m.
• (6) Oregon State vs. (11) Washington State
• Washington State/Oregon State vs. (1) Washington, 1 p.m.
• UCLA/USC vs. (4) Arizona, 3:30 p.m.
• Stanford/Arizona State vs. (2) California, 7 p.m.
• Utah/Colorado vs. (3) Oregon, 9:30 p.m.
• Washington/Oregon vs. (1) Stanford, 1 p.m.
• UCLA/Arizona vs. (4) Arizona State, 3:15 p.m.
• Utah/Colorado vs. (2) California, 6 p.m.
• Oregon State/Washington State vs. (3) USC, 8:15 p.m.
• Semifinal, 7 p.m.
• Semifinal, 9:30 p.m.
• Semifinal, 1 p.m.
• Semifinal, 3:30 p.m.
• Pac-12 championship game, 4 p.m.
• Pac-12 championship game, 12:30 p.m.