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Tuesday, March 11, 2008|News item: The West Coast Conference, seeking a neutral site for its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, is moving the 2009 championships to Las Vegas at the Orleans Hotel and Casino.

Old news item: The San Diego Sports Arena, once a place of civic pride that was worthy of hosting the 1975 NCAA Final Four, remains San Diego’s municipal arena, even though it is devoid of events it was built to house.

What do the two items have to do with each other? Plenty, and to illustrate my point, I’m throwing Gonzaga University basketball coach Mark Few into the story.

Few is the coach of the national power from the Pacific Northwest that campaigned the loudest and longest for the WCC tournaments to be moved off WCC campuses to a neutral site.

He, and other WCC coaches, want to take away the homecourt advantage that the University of San Diego’s men’s and women’s teams capitalized on the past week during a successful tournament on the floor and at the WCC ticket office.

“I’m proud the league finally figured out what the coaches wanted for the last 18 or 19 years,” Few said. “If you hit them hard over the head enough times, they finally figure it out.”

Where was Few when we needed him in San Diego? Or at least someone like the forward-thinking coach.

Maybe he was the guy we needed to prod short-sighted city leaders and a paranoid populace into recognizing the value of building a modern arena to replace the outdated Sports Arena.

If such a civic jewel existed, San Diego’s municipal arena would be the annual home of the WCC tournament. In the hunt for a neutral site, WCC officials considered the Sports Arena since it’s not USD’s home court.

Few and other coaches would have viewed such a move to San Diego and the Sports Arena as less than ideal but acceptable and certainly better than the status quo.

But upon touring the Sports Arena, WCC officials dismissed the idea. They painted a harsh, nasty description of the building and said it was inadequate.

“San Diego is a great city in its own right,” WCC commissioner Michael Gilleran said. “But if we go to San Diego, we have a first-class facility right here (USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion) that is cheaper and well staffed. We didn’t feel it was the right thing to do to pull the trigger (and move to the Sports Arena).

“We wanted to hold out for something that we were in love with. We didn’t want to settle. With the Orleans, we’re not settling.”

Whether the WCC should be playing its marquee basketball event in a city known for gambling and vices and a state with no member schools is another debate.

The point I’m making is consider all the events San Diego could have made money off in the recent past had a modern arena been built.

There are people out there that will tell you, yeah, but San Diego isn’t a basketball town. The NBA, with the Rockets and Clippers, both moved away. But they don’t know the full story.

The Rockets were victims of conflict between the city and the franchise over rent, management of the Sports Arena and other issues that drove the team away.

The Clippers were victims of Donald Sterling running the franchise into the ground so he had an excuse to move the team to Los Angeles.

So the WCC skipped San Diego in favor of hotel and casino arena in Las Vegas. With no pro basketball in Las Vegas, the Orleans also hosts college invitationals in November and December that feature the biggest names in the game — Kentucky, Kansas and other schools with fans who travel.

Next year’s WCC tournament will be sandwiched between three straight weeks of basketball tournaments. The Nevada state high school tournament will precede the WCC and the Mountain West Conference will follow the WCC.

Hey, maybe one of San Diego County’s Indian casinos should build a basketball arena and fill the void.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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