Vegas or bust for Pac-12 Tournament

The Pac-12 Tournament was never a complete success in Los Angeles. If moving it to Las Vegas doesn't pay off, commissioner Larry Scott should end it.

Who knows if Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott has seen "Swingers," but he is taking a page from the 1996 cult film in hopes of reviving the men's basketball tournament.

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

Just as writer/director Jon Favreau sent his lead characters on a road trip from Los Angeles to Sin City, Tuesday will mark the formal announcement of the long-rumored deal to bring the event to the MGM Grand Garden Arena after 11 years of mixed results at Staples Center.

However, if a change of scenery cannot create excitement and increase attendance, Scott should end the tournament for good and return to a full round-robin conference schedule.

He would only need to carve out one more week of games to allow each team to play 22 conference games, determine a true champion and award them the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

It would be in line with the history of the Pac-12's predecessors. Aside from a four-year experiment from 1987-90 that saw a tournament played on-campus at UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State and the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., the conference always awarded its automatic berth to the regular-season champion.

In 2002, the then-Pac-10 finally caved and created a tournament in Downtown LA, leaving the Ivy League as the only conference that determines its NCAA representative without postseason play.

On paper, it seemed like a reasonable, and profitable, endeavor. Television networks would pay for the extra content. The large alumni base in Los Angeles of each member school would ensure a full arena. And it would offer an a final opportunity for teams to improve their standing for the Big Dance or make one last run at getting in.

It never really worked, proving too reliant on hometown USC and UCLA to fill the building. The four-best years of total attendance from 2006-09 saw either the Bruins or Trojans advance to the championship game.

That home-court advantage also benefited the locals, as USC or UCLA made the finals in six of 11 years, to the ire of the other teams, coaches and fans.

Other games were played in an atmosphere devoid of energy and enthusiasm, more like a library during finals. The ratings were nothing to crow about, and the games rarely helped teams in making the NCAA Tournament or improving seeding.

It was very well run and saw some remarkable performances, perhaps most memorably Isaiah Thomas' buzzer-beater to secure the title for Washington in the 2011 championship game, but never matched the splendor of other tournaments.

In theory, Las Vegas should be able to draw a more engaged crowd. Its drawing power as a tourist destination is unquestioned, thanks to gambling, entertainment, and dining. The city already has an impressive basketball pedigree, hosting the West Coast Conference, Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference tournaments to great success.

It should also skew younger, more likely to lure students into attending with the added lure of the exploding nightlife and club scene, fueled by the explosion of popularity in Electronic Dance Music.

Then again, maybe the quality of basketball doesn't improve. Maybe gas prices continue to spike, keeping fans from driving or flying to the tournament. Maybe it just doesn't resonate in the Pac-12 the same way Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament does with its rich history dating back to 1954 or Big East Tournament's prestige of playing at Madison Square Garden.

Scott has proven himself too shrewd not to take such scenarios into consideration. He has already delivered by expanding the conference and securing an incredibly lucrative new television contract.

Odds are the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas will be another tremendous success, the latest win in his tremendous hot streak to be up five hundy by midnight.

If it fails, Scott and the Pac-12 should have the good sense to get up from the table and walk away.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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