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Mountain West’s cost-saving move on basketball tournaments will be pricey

Earlier this season, Mountain West presidents didn’t inform their basketball coaches and many athletic directors that they had disregarded a unanimous vote and decided to limit the conference tournament to eight teams for men and women beginning next year.

The biggest surprise is that anyone was surprised. Presidents, in these matters, tend to have no shame. And, often, make little sense.

The league tournament is underway at the Thomas & Mack Center and if things hold as those presidents desire, this is the final time all 11 teams will qualify for both men and women. The reported reasoning for such a switch is as short-sighted as keeping the move secret was embarrassing.

The presidents didn’t even place the issue on agenda before meeting.

They just sort of did it.

The jig was up once a Rivals website, GoWyoGo.com, posted a story based on public-records requests made by sportswriter Tracy Ringolsby and Cheyenne-based attorney Jack B. Speight. In it, an exchange of emails painted a picture of a group of coaches who had no idea their 11-0 vote not to change the field had been overturned.

“Hopefully you remember the discussion we had in May at the Arizona Biltmore where we unanimously voted for all the teams to participate in the tournament,’’ San Diego State’s Steve Fisher wrote to fellow coaches. “Commissioner Craig Thompson asked point blank if we could reduce field to eight to get us into the MGM Garden Arena. I said emphatically no, that no one was in favor of that.”

Wrote UNR coach Eric Musselman: “I found out about the decision after the fact. Was never consulted. This is a travesty for the student athlete, fans and coaches!”

If you lined up those who over the years have taken issue with much of how the Mountain West office approaches specific issues, I might not be first but would definitely battle for top 5 positioning. Not this time. The conference learned of back-room maneuvering by its presidents about the same time everyone else did. League officials were called and told to put out a release on the decision. You do what the bosses say.

We could begin writing now all the reasons for how foolish it is presidents own their powerful place within collegiate athletics, but then Christmas would arrive and people would still not be finished reading and they would want to get on with holiday shopping.

The story on GoWyoGo.com stated Fisher took exception to Robert Frank, president at New Mexico, saying the decision to eliminate six total teams was not a financial issue. Fisher took exception because he knew better. Of course money has a ton to do with this. It always does in non-Power 5 leagues, and eliminating three teams from both brackets would absolutely save the Mountain West some cash.

The presidents instead are reportedly selling the idea that fewer teams will improve the league’s ability to earn multiple NCAA Tournament berths, which is an incredibly flawed argument in relation to data.

It’s just not logical given the league’s history.

Fact: The conference on the men’s side is really bad this year. The worst it has been. It’s all sorts of deserving to be labeled a one-bid league.

But the Mountain West has also earned 17 NCAA berths over the past five seasons and has had at least one at-large bid 14 consecutive years. It has twice sent four teams into the bracket and in 2013 was awarded five berths.

There is also this: A nine, 10 or 11 seed has never won a conference tournament game. In fact, no seed lower than 6 has been crowned its champion.

There is no guarantee the conference will continue to produce such poor seasons as the present. Everyone continues to chase San Diego State, but teams like UNR and Fresno State have shown serious improvement. New Mexico returns all its starters next season. And if UNLV can make the correct hire on a head coach (the jury remains out on that, given a president will make the final call), it could quickly become a contender.

To insinuate one awful year is reason enough to cut teams from the conference tournament when your coaches are unanimously against it speaks to the imperceptive and arrogant nature of presidents.

It also doesn’t say much for their basketball knowledge.

More from the emails in the GoWyoGo.com story:

San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik: “This makes our league look very bad and definitely not a top tier league. Also, where is the wealth of the student athletes as they are always talking about. This is not a good decision overall.”

Boise State coach Leon Rice: “I never knew about it until I read about it. A colossal waste of time for us to go to meeting in May, debate and vote on things and have it not matter the least.”

The conference’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet here this week as the league tournament plays out. Here’s hoping serious discussions emerge and the presidents decide to honor the wishes of their coaches and keep the event at 11 teams.

Here’s hoping they wake up and change their minds.

And if so, here’s hoping they actually tell somebody this time.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney

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