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Commissioner reserving judgment on new format

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LAS VEGAS » Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson must have learned at a young age that if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

His thoughts on the new WAC basketball tournament format, featuring double byes for the top two seeds, and the neutral location at the Orleans Arena were sure to be hot topics at his usual "state of the WAC" press conference prior to the men’s title game. But Benson went without it yesterday, saying because of the new double-bye tournament format, there was no ideal time to address the media.

"I’ve got my own personal opinions, but my own personal opinions don’t matter," said Benson with a sly smile in a one-on-one interview.

At the behest of the WAC coaches in previous meetings, the tournament shifted to that format (used by the West Coast Conference and a few others) from the standard eight-team bracket and a neutral site was chosen instead of a host school.

The top two seeds in both the men’s and women’s tournaments made it to the title game. Because of their double byes into the semifinals, it took only one win to get to the championship.

"I don’t think that necessarily validates it," Benson said. "One year is not enough to determine whether it is the best format."

But read into what Benson calls "unintended consequences" about the format, and one gets a sense of where he stands. He mentioned that because top-seeded Utah State — which brought several thousand fans to the Orleans Arena, by far the most of any school — skipped past the quarterfinal round, an unspecified amount of ticket revenue was lost. Crowds were generally sparse in the other games.

Also, eighth-seeded San Jose State, which was on a roll after two wins in earlier rounds, came within a missed 3-pointer of knocking off rusty USU in the semifinals on Friday.

"Utah State hadn’t even played a single minute on the court, so it was set up for a possible upset," Benson said. "Even if the No. 1 seed gets beat anyway, it’s going to create the question of whether or not the format is the right format. I’ll be interested to hear what the coaches thought about it. I’ve heard just anecdotally from the fans that they couldn’t keep track of who was playing, what day it was. But again from a business standpoint, forget about a competitive standpoint, there are some downsides."


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