April 3, 2014 | 117 50

Tournament's return might not require help, but assistance could be there

The rumor mill was running in overdrive following the recently concluded West Regional for the 2014 NCAA men's basketball tournament held at the Spokane Arena, March 20-22.

Out of one end of the machine came word that Washington State University, the sponsoring collegiate institution, would not renew its involvement, and thus, our area's place -specifically Spokane - in the national spotlight would go away.

Days after the Arena was returned to its usual spring tenants, Spokane Chiefs hockey and Shock Arena Football, word was that WSU would be back behind the return of the tournament in the next cycle, perhaps in 2016?

The Spokane Regional was especially noteworthy in 2014 as an out-of-the-box bracket buster with a pair of 12 versus 5 seed upsets. Remember Harvard beating Cincinnati 61-57 and North Dakota State's 80-75 overtime win over Oklahoma?

And with each session sold out, or at least nearly filling the 11,000 arena seats, the event appears to have been a success.

If they had bailed, it was reasoned that Wazzu simply did not gain enough exposure for the investment - not money but considerable staff resources - to promote its brand and generate enough love to follow Cougar athletics, specifically basketball.

But that label had long faded, the bold crimson now a cloudy pink under former head coach Ken Bone. He was fired March 18 after five years of diminishing returns, including a 28-61 Pac-12 record.

So if Washington State were to bow out, might someone like Eastern Washington University want to take on the project?

"Honestly, it's a value proposition," EWU athletics director Bill Chaves said when presented with the suggestion.

Chaves said he, too, wondered if WSU was getting its moneys worth -that of the staff it provides to run the tournament - not any direct monetary contribution.

"My guess is Washington State has said, 'awesome (but) not sure we're getting as much out of this as we need to get out of it,'" Chaves said.

It was evident to Chaves, and others, that very few people knew it was WSU - not Gonzaga - that was at the center of bringing this high-level of college basketball to our area.

Chaves mentioned a brief glimpse at a Cougar logo on a laptop computer, but that was it. "I wouldn't have known they were dialed in with that (the tournament)."

"Here's the issue that we would have," Chaves said. "I would never not say no but I would always explore. I would be incredibly cognizant of whether or not we could even pull it off."

His main concern is staff and the time commitment running such an event requires.

"Because at the end of the day, here's the deal, if our men's and women's basketball teams - and knock on wood, I'm hoping this is the case - are appearing in postseason play, those are our staff that need to be dialed into our program," Chaves said.

That opportunity could send Eagle teams and staff down the interstate or far away across the nation.

WSU likely had its staff camp for several days to administer the event, something a large school could afford to do.

"We had some of our folks work there because that's how you do it," Chaves said. "The opportunity to work an event like that is an awesome professional opportunity," Chaves said.

That is as long as it doesn't take away from anything that has to be done at Eastern where the school is between basketball and spring football.

"Here's what I will tell you, it's certainly something we'd have conversations with but I would certainly be making sure our commitment to Eastern is met first," Chaves said.

Speculating about the possibility of Eastern, WSU and Gonzaga, perhaps, teaming to keep the event in Spokane, Chaves said he thought the NCAA would much rather deal with one school.

Especially if problems were to arise.

"Who ya' gonna' call, you gonna' call me, you gonna' call Bill (Moos at WSU) Mike (Roth at GU) if something goes sideways?" Chaves said. "I'm going to point to Bill and Mike and Mike's going to point to the two Bills."

While it could be done on a cooperative basis, if need be, "I think it's a possibility but I think that it's just easier for them to deal with one institution," Chaves said.

"Once you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks."

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

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