NCAA still has fear, loathing of Las Vegas


ARLINGTON, Tex.

It’s sort of like what they say about baseball voting for the Hall of Fame, that the only chance some star players from the steroids era have of gaining entrance is to hope those casting ballots die off and a new electorate is born.

Not that we are hoping for a quick demise to a majority of the NCAA membership.

Just some of it.

Kidding. Really.

I love the Southeastern Conference.

Another national championship in college basketball was decided here Monday evening when Connecticut beat Kentucky 60-54 before a record 79,238 at AT&T Stadium, when the two highest combined seeds to meet in a final concluded a tournament that produced as unpredictable a March as we have seen in years.

And with nets cut down and a trophy presented, so began the countdown to the 2014-15 season and a customary journey toward more bracket madness.

We know next year’s NCAA Tournament won’t stage games in Las Vegas.

Or the year after that.

Or, well, either in forever or until Jim Calhoun finally figures out he no longer coaches Connecticut. Whichever comes first.

I’m betting on forever.

The quest to open eyes of NCAA suits about their short-sighted views and mistaken opinions when it comes to staging championship play in Las Vegas doesn’t soon appear to be changing.

If the reaction of NCAA president Mark Emmert on Sunday is any indication, there is a better chance of convincing those from Chick-fil-A to open house in Las Vegas than any championships coming our way.

“It’s certainly an issue and one settled by the membership, not by me or the national office,” Emmert said. “The membership has, I personally think, been appropriately very concerned about the infiltration of gambling in college sports. We know when it has happened, it has had incredibly negative results.

“We want to make sure that the games are conducted in a way that’s utterly free from the taint of gambling. Whether or not it’s an appropriate time to reconsider the policies about championships is something the membership would have to debate. There is not an active conversation on that right now. Unless the membership decides it wants to revisit this, it’s not on the agenda.”

Of course not, and you shouldn’t hold your breath for any such moves to commence.

Emmert might be easier to read than a 3-year old with chocolate frosting smeared across his lips.

He showed up to his annual Final Four news conference with several colleagues and had each make an opening statement, because the quickest way to avoid countless uncomfortable questions about controversial issues regarding your organization (the possible unionization of college athletes, for one) is with a good old-fashioned filibuster to begin things.

Emmert arrived eight minutes late and didn’t take a question until 20 minutes into the news conference. Governing at its finest.

The choice to seriously consider Las Vegas as an acceptable destination for championship play might indeed rest with the entire membership, but it takes a serious lead on such issues from the president’s office.

One that has joined the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball in a lawsuit to combat proposed sports gambling in New Jersey; that has steadfastly stood behind statements about protecting the integrity of the game and providing consistency when addressing concerns for the well-being of student athletes.

Question, then: Does the opinion of those four conferences now staging postseason conference basketball tournaments in Las Vegas matter? Do those from the Pac-12 and Mountain West and WAC and West Coast own such little power and influence across the membership that their positive experiences in March can’t even open dialogue on the subject?

Aren’t they taken seriously enough by the rest of the NCAA that a discourse could begin as to how gambling hasn’t inappropriately touched their events in any manner?

There have been no problems whatsoever as it relates to gambling and athletes competing in conference tournaments in Las Vegas since the WAC arrived first in 1997. Zero. Those leagues that have made Las Vegas home at one of the most important times of a college basketball season have discovered what most willing to educate themselves on the matter do — that no one wants fair and just games more than those sports books taking bets.

Las Vegas doesn’t need or want second- and third-round games of the tournament. The town is booked solid that week. But should the proposed MGM arena open as scheduled in 2016 and if the UNLV stadium project ever moves from fantasy to reality, staging Sweet 16s and regional finals and perhaps even the Final Four will make more sense than at any time.

Las Vegas has everything needed. The hotels. The destination aspect for those traveling cross country. An abundance of food and entertainment options.

But it will take a serious change in the voting structure to happen, a new group of supposedly educated people opening their minds.

Don’t hold your breath, but that doesn’t mean the question shouldn’t continue to be asked.

If, for anything, to hear the suits champion an archaic and, frankly, ignorant stance.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.