The 2020 Mountain West Conference postseason tournament will come at a cost to its teams.
The league has told its membership that it will not help in covering the expense of lodging for its schools during the MWC Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez said the financial impact is difficult to calculate.
“Obviously the longer you play, the longer you stay, so you have to balance it all out,” he said. “The longer we’re there, it might cost us a little bit more.”
Nuñez said he has calculated the added expense into next year’s travel budget but, as he has told the board of regents and the regents’ Finance and facilities Committee multiple times, the cost of travel has risen more quickly than budget surpluses can cover. The additional expense of a multiple-night stay for the men’s and women’s basketball teams in Las Vegas is definitely a challenge, he said.
“We’ve looked at it, and we’ve negotiated some contracts with those hotel properties and we feel like we’re getting a tremendous opportunity with the hotel part we’re going forward with,” Nuñez said.
The 11-team women’s tournament will be held March 1-4 at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center while the men’s event runs March 4-7 in the same venue, a week earlier than normal. Teams generally arrive a day or two before their opening-round game, meaning it can be a minimum of two to three nights for each team.
The MWC has used the South Point, Hard Rock and Palms as team hotels. UNM has used the South Point as its base for years and Nuñez said it’s unclear where the Lobos will stay come March.
The Mountain West has traditionally held its tournament on the second weekend of March. Moving it up a week this season was due, in large part, to Las Vegas playing host to a massive international construction trade show March 10-14. It put a strain on available rooms near the UNLV campus, so the league took the proactive measure of starting its postseason tournament a little earlier.
Nuñez said the MWC compromised by offering hotels farther away from the Strip, something none of the schools found appealing.
“We were seeing that the properties being offered to us were a little farther out, let’s be honest,” he said.
It is not clear why the MWC has decided not to assist in the cost of lodging after moving the event up a week. Multiple calls to the league office seeking comment were not returned.
The early start has created a ripple effect with the MWC’s 18-game regular-season schedule. The final two games are usually held the first week in March, but the 2019-20 season will see each team playing two conference games in early December before picking things back up in early January.
Nuñez said the convergence of the trade show with a number of other college basketball tournaments that same week forced the MWC’s hand in moving things up. Las Vegas has become a destination spot in recent years as the Pac-12, Western Athletic and West Coast conferences have all moved their championship events to Sin City.
The 2020 Pac-12 Tournament will be March 11-14 at T-Mobile Arena while the WCC will be March 5-10 at Orleans Arena. The Orleans will then host the WAC men’s and women’s tournaments March 11-14.
The plan is to have the 2021 Mountain West Tournament pushed back to its normal slot on the calendar. While the one-year shift may be an inconvenience to some, it does not open the possibility of moving the annual tournament to another city.
In July, the MWC extended its agreement with the Thomas & Mack Center for three additional years, meaning the tournament will stay there through at least 2023. UNLV has hosted 17 of the 20 tournaments since the league’s inception, and the arena is home to a number of high-profile events like the National Finals Rodeo and the NBA Summer League.
While it’s an adjustment in a time of tightened budgets and penny-pinching, it’s not exactly news. Nuñez said he and the other athletic directors have had multiple discussions about tackling the logistics of 2020.
“Everybody has this new cost; it’s not just UNM,” he said. “We’ve just got to budget around it. It wasn’t something that was thought about a year ago, but now we know we have to do this and we’re preparing ourselves for that change.”