Tuesday, March 11, 2003

A-10 wants shot of postseason enthusiasm


Conference tourney goes to Dayton in search of sales, strong fan base

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Forget about the drab setting, sparse crowds and dull atmosphere. The Atlantic 10 injected some excitement into its postseason tournament this season by moving the event to University of Dayton Arena after a 14-year run in Philadelphia.

The move not only should spark a major increase in attendance and revenue, but the league hopes to see more general fan interest in the games as well, considering the reputation Dayton fans have for supporting college basketball.

That was a huge drawback at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where a half-empty arena watched four rounds of basketball. Last year, the average per-session attendance was 8,186.

"There were times at the A-10 Tournament when we didn't have enough people to start a fight," said Wake Forest coach and former XU coach Skip Prosser, who coached in five A-10 Tournaments at the Spectrum.

There is no question the situation has improved by switching to Dayton in the first year of a two-year agreement. As of Monday, 10,000 all-session ticket books had been sold, and all 6,400 lower-bowl seats are sold out for the tournament.

"It wasn't all about making more money," league spokesman Ray Cella said. "We were going for the atmosphere in Dayton. That's what it comes down to."

The league expects to make roughly $250,000 more than the $766,230 brought in last season in Philadelphia.

Eleven thousand tickets have been sold for the semifinal and final rounds, and Dayton's director of ticketing services, James Brothers, believes those rounds could sell out before Friday. The arena capacity for the tournament is 12,979 and only upper bowl tickets remain, $25 for each of two sessions Thursday and $30 each for the semifinal and final rounds.

"Tickets are going quick. Southern Ohio is a basketball mecca, and having the tournament here is a test to see how well A-10 basketball will draw outside of Philadelphia," Brothers said.

While Philadelphia boasts three A-10 schools, the Spectrum and Palestra before it were neutral courts that are usually a favored setting for conference tournaments. UD Arena is one of the loudest home courts in the league, and the Flyers (21-5) have lost just one game there this season, a 73-72 setback to Xavier Feb. 22.

Normally, No. 10 Xavier (24-4) would be upset about returning to UD Arena, home of the Musketeers' chief A-10 rival. And although coach Thad Matta isn't sold on playing the tournament on someone else's home floor, he realizes the payoff could be better for the league.

"The environment there will be incredible," Matta said.

He added that Xavier, the No. 1 seed, wouldn't be hampered by Dayton's home-court advantage, unless the two teams met in the championship game.

"At that point, it's just a 40-minute war," Matta said.

But not everyone in the league wants to come to Dayton to settle the Atlantic 10 championship.

"No question we are moving away from the big media scene in Philadelphia," Temple coach John Chaney said. "It was easy for New York, Philadelphia and Washington writers to get to the games. Now we know the arena will be filled up in Dayton, but will the media show up? I know it's in the name of money, though, and that's why they had to make the move."

XU in first round

Opponent: George Washington

When: 12:05 p.m. Thursday

TV: Fox Sports Ohio

A-10 Tournament

First Round

Monday

George Washington 85, Massachusetts 74

La Salle 74, Fordham 62

Rhose Island 75, Duquesne 73

At UD Arena

Dayton

Quarterfinals

Thursday, March 13

Xavier vs. George Washington, Noon

Temple vs. Richmond, 2:30 p.m.

Saint Jospeh's vs. LaSalle, 7 p.m.

Dayton vs. Rhode Island, 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals

Friday, March 14

Xavier-George Washington winner vs. Temple-Richmond winner, 7 p.m.

Saint Joseph's-La Salle winner vs. Dayton-Rhode Island winner, 9:30 p.m.

Championship

Saturday, March 15

Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.




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