Last week the Mountain West Conference concluded its search for a venue for the Mountain West men’s and women’s basketball tournament, and as many coaches and media guessed the tournament will remain at the Thomas and Mack Center. The Thomas and Mack is home to the UNLV Rebels basketball team. A few Mountain West coaches argued that the Rebels have an unfair advantage by playing the tournament on their home court, as they average over 11,000 fans per game during the regular season. The Rebels have won the tournament three times and played in the title game eight times since the tournament moved to Vegas in 2000.

The decision to keep the tournament in the Thomas and Mack was based solely on money. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority pays a fair amount of money to keep the tournament at the Thomas and Mack. They help pay to host the 22 teams that are invited to the Mountain West tournament, and pays straight cash to the conference. Moving the tournament to a different venue could be a catch-22 for the conference. They could make the move to the MGM Grand, or the new arena being built near the Monte Carlo, however, they could also lose money in the deal since the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority pays funds so much of the tournament. Craig Thompson noted that the situation was a bit of a “Sophie’s Choice.”

Las Vegas is also home to the WAC, PAC12, and WCC tournaments. The PAC12 plays their tournament at the MGM Grand, the WCC tournament will be played at the Orleans. The WAC tournament will also be played at the Orleans.

Fans and coaches alike prefer the game to be played in Vegas but the venue seems to be a constant sore spot with some in the league. The tournament will remain at the Thomas and Mack through at least 2019. As first reported by Ryan Holmgren of the Casper Star-Tribune, Larry Shyatt said he expected that decision to be made after a “so called search.”

One other decision that was made by the Mountain West in the last week was that the tournament format would be changing in 2017. The tournament currently hosts all 11 teams from the conference, however starting in 2017 the tournament will be paired down to eight teams.

The decision was made by the university presidents, and Larry Shyatt said in his conference call on Monday that the coaches were not made aware of the tournament format changing until after the decision was made.

On Monday Larry Shyatt hosted a conference call for media members and he took direct aim at the Mountain West leadership. A very testy Shyatt was most appalled at the fact that 28% of Mountain West student athletes competing in basketball would not be able to finish their college careers at the tournament. Shyatt was speaking on behalf of the coaches, as he’s the chairman of the men’s basketball coaches group, but was speaking for himself. He felt he had a duty to speak out to the Mountain West as he’s 64 years old doesn’t feel the need to hold back. He noted that some younger coaches may not be in a position to speak out as their jobs may not be as secure as his and could be damaging to their careers.

Larry Shyatt also equated the decision to not have a full conference participation in the tournament as a decision becoming of a single bid conference. Three other conferences do not have full participation of teams in their tournament, the Ohio Valley, Southland, and Sun Belt.

Shyatt said the decision was made for two reasons. One reason was financial. The second reason was something related to what other sports in the conference are doing. The Mountain West averages 3.5 bids per year, and have had 17 bids in the last five years.

Shyatt will continue to push the Mountain West to reverse their decision.

The full statement from Shyatt is at the bottom of this article.

Shortly after Shyatt’s conference call ended the Mountain West issued a public reprimand to Larry Shyatt. The statement from the Mountain West:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Wyoming men’s basketball head coach Larry Shyatt has been issued a public reprimand for his comments made earlier today critical of the recent decisions by the Mountain West Board of Directors regarding the MW Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships. The public criticism was in violation of MW Sportsmanship Rule Sections 4.2-e and 4.4.5.  It is expected Coach Shyatt will address any future concerns he may have via the appropriate internal Conference channels.

The Mountain West will have no further comment regarding this matter.  The provisions of the MW Sportsmanship Policy can be found in Rule 4 of the MW Handbook – which can be accessed via the www.TheMW.com website.

Shyatt said he will have no further public comment on the matter.

Transcript of Larry Shyatt’s full statement, provided by Wyoming Athletics:

“As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I feel it’s appropriate to address the shocking announcement for all of our student-athletes and coaches who were recently stripped, removed and/or eliminated from their ‘opportunity’ to qualify for the Big Dance. A dream of every men’s basketball player ever since the inception of conference tournaments.

Since I represent the men’s coaches, my comments will be on their behalf, although I do realize over 28 percent of all of our men’s and women’s student-athletes have now been eliminated from their opportunity they so deserve. I have also waited a couple of weeks to remove the emotion and collect as many thoughts from the people whose opportunities have been stripped, student-athletes and coaches.

Moreover, the way in which these student-athletes and coaches were to find out, in an age of student-athlete opportunity and welfare is pursuant, becomes even more disappointing and embarrassing. As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I am on the phone every two to three days each and every week to stay in constant communication with anything related to our student-athletes and discussions that are relevant. When the presidents and athletic directors met a couple weeks ago there was no, I repeat no communication or dialogue to discuss any such action. I spoke constantly with our assistant commissioner for men’s basketball who also had no communication or dialogue about the action that would take place. In an age of mass communication it’s embarrassing that perhaps the most intelligent group of men and women at our institutions would choose to eliminate, strip and remove from three teams the opportunity they have always worked two semesters for without any discussion or opportunity to speak to not one single coach or student-athlete involved.

Furthermore, it would be equally distressing if there was a president or any athletic director that thought for a moment or spoke or suggested something like ‘who cares what the coaches or student-athletes think about this action.’ Could there be a more sad and shallow kind of communication and understanding? Yes, we the coaches and student-athletes were bamboozled as President Obama would say. Was the need to strip, remove and eliminate these teams from their dreams and opportunity so important to come to an extremely curious and suspiciously quick vote without further research that is necessary? Could no one in the room perhaps suggest that we could ‘General Patton’ the situation and look at all the other options as to not strip, remove and eliminate these student-athletes’ opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament? What was the rush? A week, a month, three months to find perhaps yet another alternative as to not foil these student-athletes’ dreams.

Shortly after this surprising vote took place, I was informed by our commissioner that there were two reasons given, No. 1 finances and No. 2 that this was something that was similar to what some other sports in our league were experiencing. Men’s basketball, however, has been the torch bearer for our league. Specifically since the departure of Utah, BYU and TCU recently. In fact in men’s basketball we have received 17 NCAA bids the last five years. That is approximately 3.5 bids per year, nothing like a one-bid league. Here are the 20 conferences who continue to provide all of their men’s student-athletes the opportunity to have one more chance to run the table to the big dance: ACC, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big Ten, Colonial, Horizon, MAAC, Mid-American, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Pac 12, Patriot, SEC, SoCon and West Coast. And here are the only three that have removed a large (over 25 percent) of their student-athletes opportunities: Ohio Valley, Southland and Sun Belt.

Obviously this action to remove, strip and eliminate student-athletes’ opportunity is on that has been taken in low-budget and one-bid leagues. It is both and insult and embarrassing especially that the surprise vote and action was taken with no interesting in searching for the student-athletes and coaches involved. In situations where there is such a surprise with no notice, no inclusion and no communication, not one word uttered to an assistant commissioner, there seems to be a degree of behind-the-scenes plotting by someone or someones as to not let the cat out of the bag. We coaches are often critized by making quick emotional decisions and often are asked to go up to our athletic directors about certain issues. When we deal with our young student-athletes, however, we don’t expect them always to come to us with their concerns, interests and issues. We go to them both individually and collectively. In my opinion that is how trust and communication works best for all.

Months ago, I purposely brought up at the our spring meetings that as soon as our basketball coaches reach 14 or 15 wins, we should proudly communicate our student-athletes have become “bowl eligible.” It drew a snicker, which it was supposed to, because my point was precise. Those student-athletes work really hard and deserve their accolades and opportunities, as 82 out of 128 (64 percent) of them will have this additional postseason opportunity. Our young men too work their tails off on and off the court every bit as hard as others, deserve to be congratulated and praised as well. In the case of the latest action taken from our presidents and athletic directors quite the opposite approach was taken. We coaches all knew that, regardless of the research, we would continue to play our men’s tournament on UNLV’s home court because of financial reasons only. That was coming, but the decision to strip, eliminate and remove the opportunity of our men’s student-athletes’ was not even spoken about with any of us.

In my 41 years as a basketball coach, I have seen some wonderful illustrations of these second-opportunities being afforded. In 2001, a ninth-seeded Connecticut ran the table to win the Big East tournament. They then went on to beat our own San Diego State in the Sweet 16 and became national champions.  Just last year, our Wyoming team led our conference to six weeks only to have two key forwards contract mono and have us slip to fifth place. Four weeks later a healthy team came back with their last, but deserved, opportunity to win the conference tourney and compete in the big dance. What if our team had been a solid fourth place, slipped to eighth or ninth and was now stripped, eliminated or removed from that deserved opportunity.  Also, what about three or four-way ties in the final week of conference play? What do the fans and family members of those student-athletes plan? (flights/hotels/tickets) Will they be reimbursed? In an age of fiscal responsibility do we now choose to neglect those monetary needs?

In my opinion, this action was wrong, non-inclusive and quite opposite to where student-athletes’  welfare has gone in the last few years. If we can take action for unlimited nutrition and meals and add the cost of attendance money for student-athletes, why would we limit the men’s basketball conference tournament opportunities? Simply to save money?

This goes against the core of where main-stream collegiate athletics has been headed, which is student-athlete opportunities and well-being. Why remove the over 28 percent of our young student-athletes’ last opportunity and their dream to compete for a berth in the big dance. I only pray that these opportunities for these student-athletes will be restored soon.”

 

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