For a new college athletic conference still putting together it's scheduling, there's still a lot of details that are up in air. But, luckily the fledgling American Athletic Conference has nailed down one certainty; their inaugural championship basketball tourney will be played in the friendly confines of the FedExforum in Memphis beginning March 12th.
"I think it's exciting! You got ten good teams. It's a round robin. It's gonna be high level basketball. So, I think it's exciting for everybody," says Josh Pastner.
Excitement will be the key word, during a span in early 2014, when the AAC's tournament will kick off nearly a month of the Bluff City's own version of basketball "March Madness." After the tourney ends, the venue will host the second and third rounds of the NCAA Championship in the South Regional. Not to mention, the Memphis Grizzlies figure to be barreling down the home stretch of the NBA regular season toward hopefully another playoff berth. In making the announcement at a Tuesday news conference, Tiger Athletic Director Tom Bowen, noted Memphis' history of hosting thirteen conference post season tourneys in four different buildings dating back decades, was a strong aspect of the sales pitch the University gave in making a bid to host the event. But, the opportunity to beat out another handful of offers from around the league wouldn't have happened at all if the Memphis Grizzlies and the FedExForum management team hadn't graciously worked with the Tigers and the NBA in juggling their schedules to accommodate the event in the spirit of the greater good.
FedExforum building manager Jason Wexler says, "It was really more for the Grizzlies saying, okay, we're gonna really, down the stretch to the playoff race, going to have to sacrifice two weekends of home games and we don't know how the schedule is gonna play out if we do that. But, we're willing to take that shot for the betterment of the entire community."
Of course, not all that's in staging the event is solely rooted in altruism. The last time the city hosted NCAA tournament games in 2009 more than 10-thousand fans blanketed the entertainment venues all over town. With this being a one-time only list of teams, before conference members are dropped and added in 2015, the enthusiasm will build on its own leading up to the tourney.
"Teams like Cincinnati. Teams like Louisville. Teams like South Florida. Teams like Temple. Rutgers. They're gonna travel and they like to travel. They have core groups
of people that will come. I think that's the other thing we'll see. It's be a very full arena," -says U of M Athletic Director Tom Bowen.
Pastner says, "Even the basketball coaches said it. They said one thing about Memphis. It just runs smooth. The hospitality. Everything else. They're just professionals at it!"