Move to home sites good for Shootout

I wasn’t sure what to think about the new setup for the RMAC Shootout.

I’ve covered several conference basketball tournaments over the years, from the days the women played at Colorado School of Mines, the men at Metro State, to the University of Denver, the World Arena in Colorado Springs and, lastly, the Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo.

For various reasons, not the least of which was sparse attendance, none of the neutral sites worked.

So, when word started spreading last year that the tournament was going to home sites, the first thing that popped into my head was: Splitting the men’s and women’s tournaments was not a good idea.

I still think that, although the move to campus gymnasiums was the right idea, and the only option if you want to save the tournament.

The atmosphere at Brownson Arena was just what the RMAC coaches were hoping for when they ditched the neutral sites: a full house with students standing and screaming start to finish.

CMU men’s coach Jim Heaps likes the move. The highest-seeded team after the first round hosts the final four, even though it meant his Mavericks had to play fourth-ranked Metro State at Metro in the semifinals.

Friday night’s semifinal game between CMU and Metro drew 749, which is a solid crowd, considering the entertainment options in Denver and the fact the Chicago Blackhawks were playing the Colorado Avalanche just across the street from Metro’s campus.

Let’s face it, fans who attend RMAC basketball games in their hometowns are just that — hometown fans. They aren’t going to pack up and travel with their teams like Division I fans. Parents, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, yes. Mr. and Mrs. CMU Booster? Not likely.

But when a championship tournament is in your hometown, you show up, especially in the smaller cities and towns in the RMAC. On hand to watch the Colorado Christian women’s team upset Metro State were 792 fans, including a group of CCU students who bused over from Lakewood.

I’m guessing maybe 200 who attended the first semifinal were fans of the two Denver schools. The rest I’ve seen at just about every home game this season.

After their upset win, the CCU women sprinted across the floor to high-five the students who made the trip across the mountains.

When the top-seeded Mavericks ran onto the floor, 1,573 fans stood and roared. The student section, which had been lacking all season until the second half of women’s games, was packed.

Metro State women’s coach Tanya Haave knew the atmosphere would be electric for the women’s tournament at Colorado Mesa, and she was right. But before the Roadrunners made the trip, she said she is not a fan of splitting the men’s and women’s tournaments.

“It’s a tournament, and it’s a nice thing to have the men and women together,” she said. “I wish it was that way. Both of our schools, Mesa and Metro, are going to be split this weekend. We’re (in Grand Junction), and our men are here against Mesa. There’s a little less of a tournament feel.

“At the end of the day there are pros and cons to it. The campus feel is good. It’s going to be a great atmosphere in Grand Junction.”

So here’s a thought: Keep the campus sites, but combine the tournament semifinals and finals.

One year, the men’s top-seeded team hosts. The next year, the women’s top seed hosts. First-round games stay at the four highest seeds.

That way, when a school has both teams in the final four, as was the case with six of the eight teams involved — Colorado Mesa, Metro State and Fort Lewis — fans can watch both of their teams. School administrators and media don’t have to choose which game to attend.

“As far as making money and those things, I think the first-round games at home sites, it’s just a better atmosphere,” Heaps said. “But I think you could probably do that. I don’t see why one year you couldn’t play at the men’s highest seed and the next year at the women’s highest seed.”

By going to campus sites for the final four, the best move the RMAC made was bringing students back into the equation. The students showed up in droves and made it a true playoff atmosphere.

And the Mavericks took notice.

“I think it set up for a really good energy for our team,” said junior Sharaya Selsor. “We’ve had so much support. The biggest thing for us is we really wanted to change the view of women’s basketball here in this valley.

“Tonight was a really cool feeling, thinking maybe we’ve done that, we’ve made people excited about women’s basketball again.”


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