Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade: Palestra in play to host basketball tournament

A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade told reporters that she'd be happy for Philadelphia to bid to host the conference's 2017 and 2018 men's basketball tournaments, as the league leaves Brooklyn's Barclays Center to make way for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade: Palestra in play to host basketball tournament

(Matt Rourke/AP file photo)
(Matt Rourke/AP file photo)

After a few days of advance rumors, the Atlantic 10 and Atlantic Coast Conference formally announced Wednesday morning news that many had seen coming.

The A-10 tournament will leave the Barclays Center after the 2016 season, a year before its current contract ends, so that the ACC can host its tournament there in 2017 and 2018. St. Joe's, La Salle and the rest of the conference will return to Brooklyn from 2019 through 2021, an agreement that was confirmed as part of the new deal.

Both conferences also announced a series of A-10 vs. ACC doubleheaders at Barclays over the next few seasons, with the teams to be confirmed on a yearly basis.

The big question now is where the A-10 will go in those two off years. Not surprisingly, there's quite a bit of speculation (or at least hope) that Philadelphia will put its hat in the ring.

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A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade told reporters on a conference call after the announcement that she'd be happy for Philadelphia to bid.

“I think probably to the outside observer, folks would think that Philadelphia would be in it," she said in response to a question from the Inquirer's Mike Jensen. "Obviously, we love Philadelphia - we have two schools in the city, [and] we have great relationships with the venues there... We’ll just look to see if Philly gets into the mix."

(I can't help wondering if a certain part of that quote will draw a few raised eyebrows from hoops fans around here. But that judgement can be left for another day.)

Mike also asked McGlade if the conference wants to be in the same place for both 2017 and 2018.

"It doesn't necessarily have one site for two years," she answered. "Obviously if we want to be in one venue for '17 and another for '18, then we're certainly open to that."

McGlade did not want to rule any venue out, or even give specifications as to just what the conference will be looking for.

"We have to take a look at all of the factors before we make a decision," she said. "We're not eliminating any possibilities as to where our 2017 and 2018 championships will go. Everything is in play right now."

So I asked her whether she's willing to consider college venues as well as NBA and other professional sports venues. The A-10 has had its conference tournament at many college venues over the years, with particular success at Dayton and the Palestra.

Dayton, of course, has a major place in the March spotlight as the site of the NCAA men's tournament's first-round games.

"Dayton has distinguised itself as a great college venue," McGlade said. "I think that has certainly elevated them."

McGlade also spoke highly of the Palestra, noting its "huge, rich tradition and history [that] is so apparent with the A-10."

"It will come down to the folks that run the Palestra and what their schedule looks like, and what their commitments look like," she said. 

Some observers have questioned whether the Palestra has the ancillary amemities necessary to host a conference tournament. The media room and press seating areas are small, the cooking facilities are limited, and there of course isn't any premium seating.

But the American Athletic Conferene did consider the venue for its postseason tournament this year, and College GameDay did a show from the Temple-La Salle game in January. That gave the old venue a bit of a new shine.

In addition, Penn's recent multimillion-dollar renovation of the facilities adjacent to the Palestra have created more modern ancillary spaces for events. If you were at a game this season, you saw that the pregame donors' reception area has now moved from the Class of 1971 Room to what used to be a hallway connecting the Palestra to Hutchinson Gym.

That new space would, for example, be much better for accomodating a conference tournament's media presence than the current small press room. Or it could be used as reception space for high-end ticket holders, as the Class of 1971 room can be combined with the current press room to create a bigger space.

McGlade said she hasn't had "any recent discussions with the Palestra," and has "no idea what's in their grand scheme of planning for the facility."

She did note the Palestra's recent renovations, however, saying that at "many venues - including the Palestra - everyone is renovating constantly, making improvements and making changes."

"I think when you start comparing venues, as you well know, when you select venues for championships, everything has to add up in the plus column," McGlade concluded. "It's never one isolated item that sways a decision."

Another factor in a potential Palestra bid is Penn's turnover in athletic director. Steve Bilsky steps down on June 30, and it would not be much of a stretch to think that the bidding process will run well past then. So it's likely that the decision will ultimately be made by new AD Grace Calhoun.

There's plenty of time between now and March of 2017, of course. McGlade is rightly in no rush to make a decision. But you don't have to look far to find people who want to bring the A-10 tournament back to Philadelphia. We'll see if it ends up happening.

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Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

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