Women’s basketball tournaments in Las Vegas put on show

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Women’s basketball fans were treated to quite a show this week in Las Vegas with four conference tournaments played there. Could an NCAA regional be in the cards down the road — or even a Super Regional?

Consider the coaches, administrators and players big proponents of the idea.

“I think Las Vegas is one of the few places that it could make sense,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said of hosting a Super Regional with either eight or 16 teams. “Multiple arenas, a lot of hotel capacity. … One of the things our fans love about Las Vegas is the frequency of flights, it’s relatively inexpensive, well-located, easy to get to, experiences for all kinds of different price points. There’s no doubt it would be a fan favorite for folks. And the city has the capacity to handle an event of that scale, magnitude and complexity. It would be very interesting to consider that.”

This wasn’t even a conversation until last year when the NCAA announced a temporary lifting of its longstanding rule banning championship events from states where single-game betting is allowed. The move came soon after a Supreme Court ruling in May that overturned a federal law barring most states from allowing gambling on college and pro sports.

“Championships can now be played where there’s single-game betting,” said NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn. “Prior to that ruling it wouldn’t have been possible, but, now, it’s up to the various bids that go out.”

ESPN commentator Deb Antonelli has been on a mission to bring the Sweet 16 to Las Vegas as a Super Regional for the past nine years. She feels that it would be the perfect destination, similar to what college softball has in Oklahoma and baseball in Nebraska.

Nothing can be done in the immediate future to have Las Vegas host a regional as the NCAA women’s tournament is locked in with its sites through 2022. While getting a regular regional would just require the city bidding on one, the idea of having all 16 teams play in Las Vegas to create a Super Regional is a little more complicated. It would need membership approval since it would be a tournament format change.

The women’s basketball committee has had discussions this year about the regional format that includes the number of sites and locations. The committee hopes to have the review done by the end of summer in preparation for the next championship-wide bid process, which begins in August.

“It would be a very different approach to the regional, but I’ve certainly been in favor of the NCAA considering the postseason here. (NCAA President) Mark Emmert has been to Las Vegas,” Scott said. “He has been a guest to our men’s events, and we’ve had him meet with officials here. I think the NCAA policy about the postseason has evolved and is still evolving. I think the NCAA postseason in Las Vegas is more a question of when, not if.”

Fans definitely don’t mind flocking to Las Vegas. Attendance was solid at all of the tournaments. The Pac-12 women drew well with an average of over 4,200 fans per session for the four days of the tournament, and that was without the men’s conference tournament being played at the same time. That number was on par with what the conference drew its first year in Seattle in 2013 when that city was the host.

Those in attendance were treated to great basketball and first-class halftime entertainment, including some acts from MGM properties. There was also a fun mascot basketball game at the half of one of the contests, as well as a baby race.

“My family really enjoyed it,” Oregon Ducks star guard Sabrina Ionescu said. “They watched us play and then went to a show and dinner.”

Stanford Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team won the Pac-12 Tournament for the 13th time, said she supports the idea of Vegas hosting an NCAA event.

“Why not? It really is a great destination for fans,” she said while watching a halftime trampoline act warmup before her Cardinal played the Ducks for the title. “There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, and my only reservation would be the amount of smoke in casinos, which isn’t great for the athletes, but I’m sure they can work a way around that as well.”

The Pac-12 women will return to Las Vegas next year playing games at Mandalay Bay, which is home to the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. After that Scott said he was open to coming back again.

MGM Resorts International, which hosted the Pac-12 Tournament, offered betting lines on the games at its casinos throughout Nevada. The casino doesn’t usually offer bets on women’s games during the regular season and often doesn’t start having them for the women’s NCAA Tournament until the Sweet 16.

“The Pac-12 women’s tournament action was decent overall,” said Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports for MGM Resorts International. “It was slightly less than what we get for the WNBA. The action we get for the Pac-12 men’s event is strong and continues to increase every year.”

The Mountain West Conference, Western Athletic Conference and West Coast Conference also had good attendance numbers. They’ve been coming to Vegas for years for their tournaments. The WCC averaged 5,442 during its tournament, buoyed by a strong contingent of Gonzaga fans. Those three conferences run their women’s tournaments at the same time as the men.

“It was definitely great to have all these basketball teams around,” Boise State guard Braydey Hodgins said. “We wanted to go and watch some of the Pac-12 games, but they were too late in the day. There was definitely a cool atmosphere in Vegas with all these teams here. It had the feel of something big.”