BURN THE HORSESun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson seems determined to move the Sun Belt Basketball Tournaments away from Hot Springs.
He's openly talked about New Orleans in recent months. Now he's touring the Atlanta area in this story:
Gwinnett would seem to have the exact same issue most complain about with Hot Springs. It's not at all centrally located to anyone (except a school that isn't even in the conference yet).
Previous commissioner Wright Waters fought bringing the tournament to Hot Springs initially. He sided with Huntsville, Ala. But Hot Springs wowed Sun Belt Presidents with an amazing bid and stole the tournament at the last minute. I remember being on a flight to Mobile, Ala., when the vote was taken and my shock, upon landing, that Hot Springs won.
Hot Springs also upped their stock when the Sun Belt came back and asked for more, including a second court. Hot Springs made it happen.
While Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky fans openly blast Hot Springs on message boards, they still show up in good numbers here. The same can be said here for UALR, Arkansas State and North Texas fans. I guess it could be reversed in Gwinnett with Troy, South Alabama and Georgia State fans subbing out for UALR, ASU and UNT.
Perhaps the Sun Belt should rotate between the two sites. Play one year in Hot Springs, one year in Gwinnett. That won't satisfy everyone. But it could be a comprimise.
But be careful what you wish for. Hot Springs has put together a pretty nice four-year run as host. It has solved many of the problems faced in recent years by the rotating of the tournament between campus sites. Overall, it's bee pretty successful.
This seems like a big year for Hot Springs. And they should get an attendance spike based on the dates. Instead of playing Saturday through Tuesday, the Sun Belt Tournament is moving to Friday through Monday this year. That should keep more fans around for the weekend.
Obviously, we have a stake in keeping the tournament in Hot Springs. We'll make no attempt to hide our bias. Benson might find a better city or even a nicer arena than Hot Springs. But it's unlikely any city is going to give the Sun Belt as many amenities as Hot Springs does.
Still, we have no expectations that the tournament will be Hot Springs after the contract runs out in 2014. It doesn't seem like the Sun Belt is willing to commit again.