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Monson: One annual thing BYU, Utah, USU and Weber must do

Published November 28, 2013 3:17 pm

Men's basketball • College basketball passions could be rekindled with an in-state tournament
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Chris Hill floated a terrific idea the other day — an early season tournament involving the state's four major basketball schools to be played at EnergySolutions Arena every year. It's an idea whose time has come — for a couple of notable, uncomplicated reasons.

First, college basketball in Utah has bumped and skidded along for too long now. Other than the Jimmermania that hit Provo a few years back and caught on around the country, the rest of the recent basketball scene here hasn't exactly been a thrill a minute.

This used to be a college basketball state. At present, that ranks low on the list of Utah sports priorities, well behind college football, the Jazz and maybe even Real Salt Lake.

Old-timers tell stories about the way college basketball used to be in the state and the thunderous place it took on the sports Richter scale. There's a reason BYU has the Marriott Center, Utah the Huntsman, Weber State the Dee Events and Utah State the Spectrum, all basketball palaces where capacity crowds used to gather for the most riveting and intense games on the annual athletics calendar.

Now you could fly the Goodyear blimp through some of those arenas on certain nights without blocking a single patron's view. Even some of the rivalry games — like Utah-BYU — don't come close to selling out.

There was a time when that would have been unfathomable.

Now, it's routine — although the Spectrum remains a jewel of a place to watch a big game, and the Marriott has its moments, too.

But it's nothing like it once was.

Universities' marketing departments have made a study of the drop-off in interest, finding theories ranging from the Jazz sucking the basketball energy of fans away from the less-talented schoolboys' version of the game to football taking the throne at the pinnacle of college sports here.

Whatever it is ... it just is.

And something should be done to bring back a bit of energy.

An annual round-robin basketball tournament is the ticket, a ticket fans might buy and buy into.

Before we anoint Hill as any kind of visionary, it is the Utes' refusal to go on playing home-and-home games with the Aggies and Wildcats that set up the need for this kind of event. This season, Utah has its Pac-12 schedule to look forward to, along with a bunch of lesser opponents your 40-and-over city league team could beat.

That makes no sense when interest in local college basketball continues, at least in some corners, to decline.

Second, this kind of tournament would familiarize fans here not only with other teams around the state, it would help them get to know their own team. In theory, the better they get to know their team, the better they will support their team — unless what's behind the curtain is so uninspiring that interest will drop further. If that's the sorry case, nothing is going to bring customers back into the big buildings.

Schools could market the devil out of the thing and jack up to some extent what has fallen asunder. Nothing does that better than rivalries, than face-to-face competition that gets right up in the face of fans who react not just with great emotion, but great willingness to shell out a few bucks for tickets, concessions, gear and donations.

Hill said he's bounced the idea to the other schools, each of which plays in a different league, and hopes the tournament could be implemented in 2015. I say, the earlier, the better.

Scott Barnes is pushing back because he said the Aggies prefer a home-and-home series with the instate schools.

Bag that, Scott. Think outside the box here and inside a whole new realm. Think about the old energy that once was so prevalent here and the new energy that could be generated by way of bringing all of these schools into one building at the state's primary population center over, say, a three-day period. Pack a lunch. Pack a few lunches. Gather with your friends. Gather with your rivals. Invite the pep squads, the cheerleaders, the mascots, the bands. Think of the dynamic that arrangement could bring:

Utah State-Utah, BYU-Weber State, Utah State-Weber State, Weber State-Utah, BYU-Utah State, Utah-BYU, Pac-12-West Coast Conference, Mountain West-Pac-12, WCC-MWC, Big Sky-Pac-12, Big Sky-MWC, Big Sky-WCC.

It makes a lot of sense. Work out the schedules, tell Southwest Baptist College and St. Katherine you can't play them because you've got something bigger in mind. Divide the dollars fairly and watch the emotions, interest and ties to the past emerge. And then maybe your own buildings will find more butts in them when your team plays other opponents.

Fans in this state deserve this tournament, even if they don't know they deserve it. And when they get it, they just might remember what their moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas used to talk about experiencing back when people actually cared about college basketball around here.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson. —