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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Connecticut fan support helped Mohegan land bid

The people calling the shots for the American Athletic Conference are the same ones who were affiliated with the Big East in recent years so they were very aware of the UConn fan base's willingness to support the Huskies whether it is in the regular season or in the postseason conference tournament.

Naturally when the bids started coming in from facilities eager to host the inaugural American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament, knowing that ticket sales would be brisk if it were held in the Nutmeg State ultimately resulted in Mohegan Sun securing the rights to host the 2014 event with the conference having the option to bring it back to Mohegan in 2015.

"The Connecticut fan base has been a fan base that has  supported the championships for years and years and years and we hope this chance in venue will provide some new options and opportunities for metrics that will include the hings that the fan base would like to see outside of the venue as well," American Athletic Conference associate commissioner Danielle Donehew said. "There are plenty of places for restaurants, shopping  and other entertainment around the games but we hope that the venue will fans from around our new membership will all want to go to. We hope it will be an event that we will continue to grow and provide a great championship experience. We are excited for our student-athletes to play in a WNBA venue and the Mohegan Sun Venue is a great size that we should be able to have a real strong attendance."

Rather than place the tournament at a permanent site as has been the case with the XL Center hosting the Big East women's basketball tournament for the last 10 years, the plan is to have the event at Mohegan for either one or two years and then open up the bidding for other venues.

"For this first decision and this first contract as The American we were strategic in placing our championship site inside our largest women's basketball fan base but as time goes on and as our new members are more comfortable in our conference family I would anticipate that we would have more venues throughout our footprint that are interested in hosting," Donehew said. "At this time this is the right decision for us as a conference family and our membership is excited about it."

The tournament will begin on Mar. 7 with the No. 7 seed playing the No. 10 seed and the teams seeded 8th and 9th squaring off. The top six seeds receive byes into the quarterfinals. The championship game is set for Mar. 10. Unlike the Big East which has had its title game on a Tuesday, The American conference final will be on a Monday.

UConn, which won 19 Big East regular-season titles, headlines the conference membership. Fellow former Big East teams Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisvile and Rutgers will also be in the league although Louisville leaves for the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers moves to the Big Ten in 2014. Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist are other conference members with East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa slated to join for the 2014-15 season. With 10 members for the 2013-14 season, each team will face the other nine schools at home and on the road during an 18-game regular-season schedule.

The XL Center, which hosted the Big East women’s tournament in each of the last 10 seasons, did not make the cut this time.

“The XL Center has been a wonderful host for us for the last 10 years and in nine of those 10 years we led the country in attendance,” Donehew said. “The folks at the XL Center and the city of Hartford have been wonderful partners for us over the years and we are extremely grateful for the support they have shown our event and the investment they have made in our event.”

There were Big East schools which raised concerns about playing a conference tournament in a casino but Donehew said there were no such concerns this time around. The fact that Mohegan Sun Arena has hosted high school and college tournaments likely eased some of the reservations about playing the tournament on the site of a casino.

“Certainly there have been a lot of great events there and obviously they are in the event business,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in late April shortly after rumors began that Mohegan Sun Arena was the front runner to land the tournament. “There is no sports wagering at Mohegan and as far as the other aspects of the casino, if high school administrators are not worried about bringing high school athletes to play in the tournament,.. I am sure for a lot of people it is always going to be a concern and it is always going to be a question but I believe the fact that there has been both high school and college games played there I think that aspect at some point is going to go away.”

Donehew confirmed that the conference will play an 18-game schedule during the regular season with each team playing the other nine schools once at home and once on the road. Donehew is hopeful that the schedule will be released before Labor Day..

"I think this is an important step for our conference for our new direction at The American," Donehew said. "We are hoping that it is an event that the nation will watch and be interested in. This is an important day for women's basketball and for The American and we are excited that we have been able to take such a strong step and moving forward for our basketball product and look forward to all that we can build together with our existing members and our new members."



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