WCC, arena sign three-year extension

SAN FRANCISCO -- The West Coast Conference tournament is staying in Vegas.

The WCC and the Orleans Arena signed a three-year contract extension to keep the men's and women's conference basketball tournaments in Las Vegas through 2012. It's a significant step for a mid-major league looking to make more of an impact nationally, considering the top conferences play their tournaments at neutral sites.

"My philosophy is if you can support a neutral-site model, it's the best model," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said Wednesday in a phone interview from Las Vegas following a formal announcement of the deal.

"We have found we have the right fan base, the right arena and the right destination," Zaninovich said. "The three things we look at are financial success, student-athlete and fan experience and exposure. If you can accomplish those three things on a neutral site, you have to do it if you want to be a major player in college basketball."

The WCC sold out the Orleans Arena this past March for its first tournament not played at one of the conference's eight schools, setting WCC records for both total championship attendance (33,320) and single-session championship attendance (7,845).

The Western Athletic Conference will also hold its conference tournaments at Orleans for two years starting in 2011, so the two events will be played in back-to-back weeks.

"It will be like March Madness for nine days leading up to Selection Sunday," Zaninovich said. "I think that's great for college basketball and great for us. We'll work closely with the WAC. It should be a great atmosphere."

Zaninovich said officials at the Orleans Arena went out of their way to accommodate the WCC's needs, agreeing to make "tweaks" to the facility to "make it more basketball-friendly."

"We're ecstatic -- 2009 was a little bit of an experiment because we hadn't been to a neutral site, and it's a city we don't even have a school in, so it was uncharted waters," Zaninovich said.

The WCC presidents were in favor of a long-term commitment to the Las Vegas venue.

"The Orleans Arena has established itself as the leading neutral-site college basketball venue in Las Vegas and we are very proud of our success and look forward to the fantastic seasons ahead," arena executive director Darren Davis said. "We are thrilled about the return of the WCC to the Orleans Arena."