On Wednesday, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco announced that the 2020-2022 men’s basketball tournaments will be held at Dickies Arena, currently under construction in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We are delighted to partner with the city of Fort Worth and Dickies Arena for our 2020-22 Men's Basketball Championships," Aresco said. "This three-year agreement will bring our Men's Championship to a vibrant, sports-minded community that embraces major events and extends wonderful hospitality to visitors.”
The arena will have a capacity of 14,000 and will have 40 suites as well as a practice arena that will hold a regulation court.
While The UConn Blog’s unofficial position is that the tournament should be permanently moved to New Orleans, this is not the worst idea that Aresco and the conference have had, despite the negative implications for UConn fans.
Hartford has hosted two of the conferences’ four tournaments, with Memphis and Orlando each getting one. Numbers on the whole are unavailable for Memphis’ tournament in 2014, but the final had an official attendance of 13,554 and the semifinals held a similar figure.
A top-10 Louisville team meeting UConn in the final helped that number, but even the first round session of Rutgers facing USF and UCF playing Temple officially drew over 12,000.
The numbers have gone down from there. The first Hartford tournament in 2015 averaged 9,096 per session, or 193 more than the Summit League. Orlando, in 2016, had 7,774 people attend on the average session, or 2,230 less than the Missouri Valley. This year’s tournament, also in Hartford, drew 5,811 people per session. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, whose best team according to Ken Pomeroy is ranked No. 161, brought in 7,286 per session.
UConn had a historically down season, which definitely contributed to the drag in XL Center attendance, but Hartford severely limits attendance for other fanbases.
Memphis worked out well and will get the 2019 tournament, but Hartford and Orlando have not. The conference’s desire to spread out makes sense, especially with the contingent of schools that are west of or on the Mississippi River growing larger.
Dickies Arena is brand new and Dallas/Fort Worth is a sprawling metropolitan area with lots to do and see, with and without sports.
Additionally, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is among the busiest in the country. All six of the schools outside of driving distance can take a nonstop flight.
So Fort Worth makes sense as a place to try out, why not try to take advantage of budding excitement for programs at Houston and SMU? But the three-year commitment goes a bit too far. Until we know how it will go, the conference committing to what could prove to be another disappointing venue might not be prudent.