NCAA’s Obstinacy a Sure Bet

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By Ron Kantowski,

Now that it has been officially announced that the Western Athletic Conference will join the West Coast Conference in holding its men's and women's postseason basketball tournaments at the Orleans Arena - at the time of Wednesday's news conference, the cat had not only been let out of the bag, but was halfway to Barstow - I figure it's only a matter of time until the Big Sky Conference announces that it, too, will move its hoops shindig to Las Vegas.

In addition to the WCC and WAC, the Mountain West Conference recently had the good sense to renew its contract with the Thomas & Mack Center. That means that over a 10-day period in March 2011 (provided the WCC renews its agreement at the Orleans, which should be a slam dunk) you'll be able to see six No. 8 seeds get eliminated and their fans try to unload tournament passes on the concourse for a fraction of what they paid for them.

Talk about March Madness.

The only thing more maddening would be if the Big Sky fell on Las Vegas, too. I'm sure they could spruce up the old All-American SportPark and hang a couple of peach baskets on the wall. Or here's a better idea: The Big Sky could play outdoors, at Sunset Park. The weather's not all that bad during the first week of March. Northern Arizona could be shirts, Eastern Washington skins. You gotta win by two. Portland State, you got next.

The first thing I'm gonna do after I'm through writing this is call NAU coach (and Las Vegas native) Mike Adras to get the ball rolling.

After that, I'm gonna call the NCAA and ask when do we get our Far West regional, or whatever they're called these days.

The WAC's decision to follow the WCC into town to play some ball on the back lot of a casino property that offers sports betting - oh, the horror! - and alcohol - oh, the double horror! - seemed like the perfect time to call out the NCAA hypocrites for a crazy rule that states none of its championship events will be held in a casino, or within the boundaries of a state that has them.

Unfortunately, the state of Delaware beat me to it. Jack Markell, the governor of The First State, is locked in a no-holds-barred battle with the NCAA over Delaware's decision to adopt sports betting. We can't stop you from putting up the Eagles at minus 3 1/2, says the NCAA. But if you do, your beloved Blue Hens will never host another Division I-AA playoff football game. And George Thorogood will be banned from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, effective immediately.

Delaware has hosted 22 playoff games since 1973. This is a ruling that eventually will hit the Blue Hens right between the shoulder pads, which is how the NCAA likes it.

Why do you think they even established this misguided rule in the first place? If the NCAA didn't want to mess with Jerry Tarkanian so badly, my guess is where they play these games would be as relevant as the Rice Owls. In fact, we probably would have been awarded a Final Four without even bidding. That's the least the NCAA could do after Las Vegas oddsmakers blew the whistle on Hedake Smith and the little point-shaving scheme he and his fraternity brothers were running out of Arizona State a few years back.

At the news conference, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said this Delaware situation combined with other facts, such as that most of the membership of the fine, upstanding Pac-10 now accept advertising dollars from tribal casinos, may shed new light on the NCAA's silly argument that playing basketball in a casino will cause one's arm to fall off and his dog to die.

"That issue is going to be vetted out," Benson said in mentioning the consternation of Johnny-bet-lately states such as Delaware and Montana and New Jersey to the playoff ban. "The NCAA hasn't backed off the issue. But perhaps the NCAA membership recognizes how thin the margin is of what is OK and what isn't."

The state of Oregon wanted to institute a sports lottery a few years ago but when the NCAA raised its heavy hand, saying that Portland could forget about hosting the Far West regional in a few years' time, Salem backed off like the guy guarding Kobe Bryant. The Rose Garden got its regional this year. Two of the luxury suites were sold to tribal casinos. One was used to entertain its high rollers.

Nobody's arm fell off. Nobody's dog died.

My prediction is that one of these days, like when the gambling industry makes it an offer that would make the $6 billion it received from CBS for its basketball tournament rights look like Clark Kellogg's chump change, the NCAA will back off, too.

They'll say you can have the Far West regional in Las Vegas because, frankly, our big shots like to drink martinis and visit gentlemen's clubs on the company dime, too, and that's hard to do in Salt Lake City or Boise.

And then we will tell them you can stick your regional, and the restrictions about betting on them, in Pocatello or anywhere else the sun doesn't shine, because we're already making money hand over fist by having college basketball fans over to watch them on TV in our sports books.

As one of the city's movers and shakers told me Wednesday, Las Vegas doesn't need events. Las Vegas creates events. The opening weekend of March Madness at our betting parlors is just one more example of our business acumen and the tourist's tax dollars at work.

So I'll take Northern Arizona and lay the points. Especially if it's cold and         

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