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Chuck Landon: C-USA lacks answers for indifference to tournament

March 17, 2019

FRISCO, Texas — It certainly seemed premature.

Only one Conference USA men’s and women’s basketball tournament had been played in the Ford Center at The Star.

Yet, even before the second tournament began here last week, league Commissioner Judy MacLeod announced two more years had been added to the contract.

Really?

Shouldn’t it have required more research and more of a sounding board than that? I mean, after all, C-USA made major changes in the configuration of the basketball courts in this football stadium from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, the courts were side-by-side, but in 2019 they were end-to-end.

It was an improvement.

And that’s the point.

The bugs of playing two basketball games at the same time in one football arena still are being worked out. Yet, Conference USA still signed off on having the 2020 and 2021 league tournaments here.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be a sound decision. Just look at the downsides of playing here.

First and foremost, there is very little attendance. That’s because just two league members — North Texas and Louisiana Tech — are within reasonable driving distance.

The Mean Green is theoretically the host school, yet North Texas doesn’t have a strong following. It finished eighth in league attendance, averaging 3,364 fans at home. As for LA Tech, it is about a four-hour drive away, but, again, it doesn’t have a lot of support. The Bulldogs finished 10th in C-USA attendance, averaging 2,170 fans at home.

So, unlike when past C-USA Tournaments were held in Memphis, El Paso, Tulsa and Birmingham, there isn’t a “home” team to wear the attendance hat.

That was abundantly obvious this week.

Take Marshall’s 82-73 loss to Southern Miss, for example. It was arguably the best game of the tournament. Yet, there were merely 250-300 fans watching the contest. A quick count totaled about 70 Marshall fans in the stands.

Yet, the official box score listed the attendance as 4,024. Don’t make me laugh, this is too serious a subject.

The Conference USA Tournament doesn’t draw any attendance here, and it’s never going to draw any attendance here. So, by extending the contract for an additional two years, C-USA officials actually are endorsing the concept that fans don’t matter.

That is nothing short of astonishing.

To a somewhat lesser extent, it also sends the message that newspaper coverage doesn’t matter. The Herald-Dispatch was here, along with the Virginian-Pilot (Va.), Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News and Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle.

That’s all.

So, what’s the problem? Distance, first of all. It’s too far to drive and it’s too expensive to fly. I’ve covered previous C-USA Tournaments in Memphis, El Paso, Tulsa and Birmingham, but this is by far the priciest tournament to attend.

So, it doesn’t have many fans or much newspaper coverage, which leaves television. Early games were streamed on ESPN Plus and Stadium. Then, the semifinals and championship were on CBS Sports. But when were the semis played? At 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

That speaks volumes.

So, what’s the solution to this overall dilemma? Ah, that’s the crux of the matter. There isn’t one.

Nobody is beating down C-USA headquarters’ doors (very conveniently located in nearby Irving, Texas) wanting to host this tournament.

There is no interest. There’s no bidding from other cities. There are no options.

The C-USA Tournament has nowhere else to go.

Sad, but true.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.