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McGair: A four-team R.I. Division I college basketball tournament? Why not?

December 6, 2013

Providence senior guard Bryce Cotton (right) gets past URI defender E.C. Matthews during the first half of Thursday night’s game at the Ryan Center. The Friars recorded a 50-49 victory. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

What would it take for the state’s four Division I men’s basketball programs to get together for an in-season, round-robin tournament?

Depends on which school representative you speak with.

“Anything we could do to grow interest, whether it be a doubleheader, a tournament or anything like that, we would be all for it,” stated Brown head coach Mike Martin.

Added Bryant mentor Tim O’Shea, “The two schools who have a financial stake in this are PC and URI – mostly PC because they have a real revenue stream going. URI has one to a lesser degree, but they (meaning the Friars and Rams) would have to be the ones who champion it.”

O’Shea’s larger point has to do with the sold-out crowd that flocked to the Ryan Center Thursday night. Playing the Friars at home is a guaranteed box office bonanza for the Rams that the program and school has come to expect since the rivalry branched out to include South County as an every-other-year venue 10 years ago.

“When you think about URI, that’s a significant revenue opportunity for us. I know PC as well looks forward to that game with (12,400, the seating capacity at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center) every other year,” stated Rhode Island Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn. “That’s real dollars that would make it complicated to give up.”

Now that it’s been made clear that Providence and Rhode Island are driving the bus, the question of concocting a four-team arrangement that doesn’t sacrifice gate receipts becomes an exercise where little an elbow grease is required.
If PC and URI officials wish to stay the course as far as ensuring a proper “save the date” notation on each one’s schedule, that’s perfectly fine. The idea here isn’t to trifle with what already works, rather to introduce a concept that would go a long way into breathing fresh life into the sporting culture around these parts.

Staging a tournament that involves rounding up the Friars, Rams, Bears and Bulldogs and placing all four under one roof would serve as the quintessential preseason appetizer. Outside of Thursday’s PC-URI game, the only in-state, non-conference game of note to register more than just a passing fancy was the Friars’ overtime victory against Boston College last month. The marquee games of note such as URI-Arizona and Providence-Kentucky took place out of state, which in turn leaves fans of both programs with home yawners such Marist and UMass-Lowell – nondescript cannon fodder solely designed to pump up the win total.

Instead, how about pumping in a basketball attraction that would go a long way in settling the debate regarding who the best Rhode Island-based team is in a given year. Everyone from Smithfield to Smith Hill to College Hill to Narragansett Pier likes to lay claim that the school they root for is the best, so why not settle the issue once and for all?

“That’s something I think we would have to talk to Mike, Tim and Dan (Hurley, URI’s coach) about. I would like to pick their brains and see what they think,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley. “To have a tournament that opens the year, you never want to say never.”

Even if the coaches remain uneasy about staging such an event, college leaders should salivate at the prospect of having a marquee win-win proposition take place a jump shot away from campus. By assuring two games for each team – semifinals followed the next day with a consolation and a championship matchup – each school would have two less headaches as far as locking down non-conference games.

“It seems we live an era where it’s getting harder for schools to fill their gyms,” notes O’Shea, who brought up another key benefit in organizing an Ocean State hoops round-robin. “From a travel and a cost standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to play everybody.”

Location would require some compromise. Do you rotate so that all four schools get a crack at hosting, or do you simply succumb to the big boys in order to get them to sign off and grant the Friars and Rams the right to rotate between the Ryan Center and The Dunk?

“I don’t know how much something like this has been discussed, but I think it would be great for the fans of the state,” said Brown’s Martin. “We don’t have the issue because we play all three. Those are the first three games every year we make sure we have on the schedule, and we’re fortunate that there’s reciprocal interest from (PC, URI and Bryant).”

To summarize, PC vs. URI would remain an annual staple. Perhaps by introducing this new arrangement, we could land another meeting. Or just maybe, Brown or Bryant end up throwing a wrench in those best-laid plans.

“I think it’s a great idea, but it’s something that has to fit in everybody’s schedule,” Cooley expressed.

Echoed Bjorn, “If there ever was a way to pull all of that together, I think it would be a lot of fun.”

It certainly would.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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