Pac-12 chooses Las Vegas as new basketball tournament home
College basketball • Beginning next year, Pac-12 men’s tourney will be played at MGM Grand Garden.

By Bill Oram

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 13, 2012 05:05PM
Updated: March 14, 2012 12:23AM
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Utah's Alex Mortensen, left, looks to pass as he is defended by Colorado's Askia Booker during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Pac-12 conference championship in Los Angeles, Wednesday, March 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The safest bet in Las Vegas came through: The Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament is moving to The Strip.

The conference announced Tuesday, after weeks of speculation and media reports, that after 11 years at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the tournament will move to MGM Grand Garden starting next spring. The deal guarantees the next 3 tournaments will be held at the hotel and casino.

The decision came after a 10-month bidding process by various cities within the conference’s footprint, including Salt Lake City. But commissioner Larry Scott said a number of factors, including public support, pushed Las Vegas over the top.

“I can’t tell you the number of people that said, ‘If this event’s in Vegas, I’m going to be there,’ ” Scott said.

This year’s tournament concluded Saturday, with sixth-seeded Colorado topping No. 4 Arizona for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The first season at the new venue — which is expected to seat between 13,000-14,000 for the tournament — will align with the first year of the Pac-12 landmark television contract, providing a glitzy marriage. The Staples Center and Los Angeles had failed to draw fans, leading to a steady decline in attendance. How do you give an event more sparkle and kick? Stage it in a town known for sequins and showgirls. The Pac-12 becomes the fourth conference to hold its tournament in the City of Sin. The West Coast Conference and WAC both hold their tournaments at the Orleans Arena, while the Mountain West tournament is held at the Thomas & Mack Center.

While Salt Lake City’s bid, spearheaded by the Utah Sports Commission and EnergySolutions Arena, sold the fact the tournament would be the primary event in town over its four-day presence, Las Vegas won with the idea that there is always something to do, even when the tournament ends.