Written by Corbett Smith
For 1st time in 93 years, UIL basketball tournament likely leaving the University of Texas at Austin campus
ROUND ROCK — The University Interscholastic League will crown next year’s basketball champions in a new venue.
With hotel pricing and availability a problem because of a scheduling conflict with the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, the UIL will move the 2015 boys and girls basketball tournaments to San Antonio’s Alamodome.
UIL staff presented the recommendation to the league’s Legislative Council on Wednesday, getting guidance from the group of administrators to move ahead with negotiations.
While nothing has been finalized, UIL Deputy Director Jamey Harrison said that the league had initial discussions with Alamodome officials and that he felt “comfortable” that an agreement could be made.
Only three other venues apart from the current host, Austin’s Frank Erwin Center, met the league’s criteria: Dallas’ American Airlines Center, Houston’s Toyota Center and San Antonio’s AT&T Center. Each was contacted to host the tournaments, held over the first two weekends of March. All three, according to Harrison, had scheduling conflicts.
Steve Letson, the Mavericks’ vice president of operations and arena development, said that with both the Mavs and Stars in their seasons, the UIL’s requirement for consecutive weekends was problematic.
The only other feasible option was to push the tournaments a week earlier and keep them in Austin. But the UIL didn’t want to alter its basketball calendar, especially since smaller schools that make deep football playoff runs already miss the first month of the season.
When UIL Executive Director Charles Breithaupt announced the league’s recommendation, the pain was evident in his voice.
Since 1921, Austin has been the destination for the state’s title contenders. Breithaupt coached for 17 seasons, winning the boys basketball title at Hardin-Jefferson in 1991.
“I am pained to have to make that decision,” Breithaupt said. “The traditions of the tournament, all that’s been ingrained in my life, just having those memories ... I didn’t want it to happen, but we tried everything way that we could. But people vote with their feet. They don’t show up.”
State tournament attendance is down by 30,000 from a decade ago, presumed by the UIL to be a response to the hotel shortage and cost.
“Just the economics of being in Austin during that time has just gotten crazy,” McKinney North girls basketball coach Michael Oldham said. “Ninety-nine-dollar rooms go to $699, overnight.”
Oldham, Allen boys coach Jeff McCullough and Kennedale boys coach Doug Groff — all state-tournament qualifiers in 2014 — said they had difficulty arranging for lodging last season. Each was excited about the change.
“The tradition is a state tournament,” Groff said. “We still have a tradition. We’re just moving cities.
“They can play in any city in Texas. If I make it to state, I don’t care where I go.”
Briefly: Site selection for the UIL state football championships was also discussed. No recommendation was given for next year’s venue, although it is expected to remain at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium for 2014. League officials did express the need to request proposals from the state’s two other possible venues, Houston’s Reliant Stadium and the Alamodome, and institute some sort of rotation among the three stadiums starting in 2016. Harrison said political pressure from state legislators in San Antonio and Houston, eager to share in the economic windfall of an event that drew 200,000 fans last year, make it impossible to keep the event solely in Arlington.
Staff writers Greg Riddle and Eddie Sefko contributed to this report.