Five schools and partner cities, as well as two neutral-site cities, have submitted bids to host the Big Sky Conference tournament from 2016-18, according to several newspaper reports.
The Big Sky tournament semifinals and championship have long been hosted by the regular season champion. Beginning in 2012, the conference moved all tournament games to the host site of the regular season champ.
The school/partner city bids have come from:
Spokane/Cheney, WA (Eastern Washington)
Missoula, MT (Montana)
Ogden, UT (Weber State)
Flagstaff, AZ (Northern Arizona)
Greeley/Loveland, CO (Northern Colorado)
The neutral site bids are from Reno, NV and Billings, MT.
The bids from Reno, Greeley/Loveland, and Spokane/Cheney are to host both the men's and women's tournaments, according to the Billings Gazette. Those cities with bids on both tournaments stand to earn an extra point in the voting system, as explained in a report from the Standard-Examiner.
The timing of such a vote is interesting, as Sacramento State currently leads the conference but does not have facilities to host the tournament. The Sacramento Kings' Sleep Train Arena and the arena at UC-Davis are also booked that weekend, so if Sac State were to win the conference this season, the tournament may have to be held at Pacific in Stockton, CA or in Reno, Nevada.
Pre-determining a tournament site has been bandied around by athletic directors and presidents for a time, with Las Vegas on their minds if the WAC were to vacate the Orleans Arena for its tournament. The situation could now become a reality, although Las Vegas is not on the table for the three-year deal in consideration. Such a situation as Sacramento State's current one is a nightmare scenario for the conference, and pre-determining a site would avoid that potential headache (Portland State is in a similar situation).
The aforementioned report from the Standard-Examiner details some of the questions the presidents will have to consider. For example, Weber State likely has the best basketball facility for such a tournament, but the idea of granting home-court advantage to a team that didn't win the conference could spell doom for Ogden's bid. This has been a sore spot among Mountain West members with its tournament hosted in UNLV's Thomas & Mack Arena.
Reno has all the tourist amenities needed to host such an event (see details from the Reno Gazette-Journal), but does the conference desire to host a tournament with zero ties to the conference? Are fans in the arena more important than the destination city? The RGJ report says the conference does not want to use Nevada's basketball arena, so what are the other options?
The Spokane/Cheney bid is interesting, as the conference could use Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, which has hosted first-round NCAA tournament games and usually plays host to one men's game each season from Gonzaga and Washington State. The 20-year-old arena holds a 12,210 capacity for basketball.
My personal opinion has long been that if you insist on holding a conference tournament in a one-bid conference, give the regular season champs every advantage possible. So I think there's value in champs hosting.
But if a pre-determined site comes to pass, I'm personally rooting for Ogden to win the bid so I can cover the event every year for Mid Major Madness. Selfish, I know.
Also up for a vote is whether or not to expand the tournament from 8 to 12 teams. One side of me is definitely in the camp to not expand the tournament. Qualifying all 12 teams for the tournament nearly makes the regular season pointless, especially if the tournament is also held somewhere other than the site of the regular season champ.
The bottom third of the conference has no business playing in a conference tournament, and I've long respected the Big Sky for keeping its tournament to 6-8 teams. There is value in earning your way to the conference tournament. Last season, the fans and media from Sacramento State were glad to be in a position to earn their way to the tournament for the first time in years.
However, there is some value in the 12-team format, according to the "give the champ every advantage possible" philosophy. Current format has seeds 1-8 all having to play three games to win, and the regular-season champ does not bye. I would assume a 12-team field would feature a first round of play between seeds 5-12, with seeds 1-4 receiving a bye. Teams would then likely be re-seeded for the second round.
Such a format would give the regular season champion both a first game against the lowest-available seed and pit them against teams who have played one extra game in their first two matchups.
So while expansion to 12 teams devalues the integrity of competition overall, it may serve the conference better if it gives the regular season champion a better road to the tournament's title game.
I received clarification from Big Sky media relations director Jon Kasper that the school presidents can vote to continue with the current format, which I believe goes for both tournament site and size of field.
According to the Standard, the decision may be announced during this year's tournament.