Smoke says Sun Belt is about to ditch Hot Springs

Arena photo.  View from Franklin Avenue.
Lakefront Arena

When we were told last week the Sun Belt was opting out of its contract to keep the postseason basketball tournaments in Hot Springs through 2014, we were not surprised. After all, new commissioner Karl Benson has been openly talking about it ever since he took office.

UALR officials talked about the postseason tournaments being moved to New Orleans next season during yesterday’s meeting of the Downtown Tipoff Club in North Little Rock. They stopped short of saying it was a done deal.

“It will be difficult to see it leave because the Hot Springs community does a great job of embracing it and we’re a league that needs to be in a place where we are embraced. We can’t go anywhere and stand alone and the truth is Central Arkansas has embraced it,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said at the Tipoff Club, quoted in both the Democrat-Gazette and Sentinel Record in Hot Springs.

The Democrat-Gazette also contacted the Sun Belt, which said no announcement has been made, and the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, which referred all questions back to the conference office.

Why won’t the Sun Belt make an announcement? Probably because it would be a PR disaster before this year’s tournament was played.

They have until May 1 to notify the HSCVB whether or not they plan to renew the contract. But that doesn’t take into account pulling the 2014 tournament from the Spa City. Late last year, Steve Arrison, CEO of the HSCVB told KZNG-AM: “We’ve got two years remaining on our contract with the Sun Belt. They’ll be here the next two years for sure.”

We’re not so sure. Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

We’ve been hearing for the past week that the Sun Belt is pulling out of Hot Springs a year early.
And the Sun Belt Conference’s Web site lists the 2014 men’s tournament as being played March 8-11 and the women’s tournament March 7-11. Starting the women’s tournament a day earlier is a necessity when a second court is not available.

And Lakefront Arena in New Orleans doesn’t have the ability to house a second court like Summit Arena and the Hot Springs Convention Center does.

Lakefront Arena was once a Sun Belt arena as the home of UNO, which has since moved to the Southland Conference.