American Athletic Conference releases location of first tournament
HARTFORD, Conn. -- The new American Athletic Conference will hold its first women's basketball tournament at the Mohegan Sun casino.
The conference announced Monday that the 2014 tourney would be played at the resort in southeastern Connecticut, which includes a just-under 10,000-seat arena that is home to the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.
The tournament will take place March 7-10. The deal gives the league the option to return in 2015.
"Mohegan Sun Arena offers our student-athletes, coaches and fans the best of many things - a world-class facility, a great destination and committed management," the conference's commissioner, Mike Aresco, said in a release.
The casino, which is owned by the Mohegan tribe, pitched itself as a venue with amenities few other venues could match, including a luxury hotel and box office on site, 30 restaurants, retail shops and 13,000 free parking spaces.
It also offers gambling, but does not have a sports book.
It had made pitches in the past to host the women's tournament for the American's predecessor, The Big East, but was rejected amid objections from the league's Catholic schools to having the tournament at a gambling venue.
"The basketball people always were interested in having the tournament here," said Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Sun's chief executive officer. "It always fell apart at the presidential level. I guess the Catholic schools being gone made it a little easier for them this year."
Those schools have split off to form their own conference and Aresco said last month that none of the American's schools objected to hosting the tournament at a gambling venue.
"No, there hasn't been any concern about that anymore, because as you know, several conferences have had their tournaments in Las Vegas or even on a casino property," he said.
The Pac-12 this year held its men's tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, one of four conference tournaments held in that city. Atlantic City, N.J., has also hosted the Atlantic 10 tournament in Boardwalk Hall, which sits among a strip of casinos.
The Sun already hosts the annual Hall of Fame Tip Off tournament, has hosted other NCAA games and serves as the site for the state high school basketball championships. It will host the WNBA All-Star Game for the fourth time in July.
Etess said the players and coaches will not be entering the arena through the casino, and likely will stay at nearby hotels rather than at the resort's hotel.
"No one is forced to go into the casino," he said, "and it's never been a problem."
The casino also has applied to host the men's tournament, though it is considered a long shot. Venues in cities such as Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis are also in the running. That announcement is expected within the next few weeks.
The Mohegan Sun beat out several other venues for the event, including Hartford's XL Center, which had hosted the Big East women's tournament every year since 2004.
Connecticut Athletic Director Warde Manuel said UConn is happy to see the tournament remain in the state.
"We have the strongest fan base, the strongest market for women's basketball in the country," he said. "So, I'm excited that it's staying here."
One of the restaurant options tournament patrons will have at the casino is Geno's Fast Break, which consists of a food court and separate pub co-owned by UConn's Hall-of-Fame head coach, Geno Auriemma.