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Charleston still hoping to land MEC basketball tournament

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston is putting on a full-court press to keep what was the West Virginia Conference basketball tournament in town, but the clock has started ticking on that effort.

The same clock has been ticking toward the end of the 89-year-old WVC. Nine of its members have left to form three-quarters of the Mountain East Conference, which has received the NCAA's go-ahead to launch as a new Division II league.

Three members, Ohio Valley, Davis & Elkins and Alderson-Broaddus, have moved on to the fledgling Great Midwest Athletic Conference, along with former WVC member Salem International.

As it brings its top-seeded men's tennis team to Charleston today for the final WVC tournament in that sport, Bluefield State is holding out hope it can join the Mountain East.

Athletic director Terry Brown says filling out schedules for 2013-14 has not been a problem, calling future MEC schools "very cooperative." But he would love to get his program in the MEC, especially with Virginia-Wise a charter member.

"We really haven't gotten a clear direction, but we're hoping to have some closure pretty soon," Brown said. "That we didn't sponsor football originally, that was a concern. I think it's changed somewhat since then. Early on, the driving force was football."

"I'm personally hoping they go to the G-Mac with us, but that's a geographical challenge for them," said Dennis Cox, Ohio Valley's athletic director.

As for his school, Cox is more ready for the transition. The G-Mac will have 10 members in 2013-14, spread over four states. With the lower number of schools, OVU will get more nonconference games - and more leeway to schedule old WVC rivals.

"I know we're going to be very comfortable with it," he said. "Nashville and Owensboro are seven-hour drives, but otherwise it's a great fit for us."

The Mountain East previously announced its football format, playing a nine-game schedule this year and a 10-game slate in 2014. The latter provides a full round-robin schedule among the 11 football-playing teams, and eliminates the headache of scheduling nonconference teams.

The league has yet to launch its full website, let alone announce its format for other sports - or where championships will take place.

That has Charleston officials working overtime to land the basketball tournament. Think about it: The city was the site of all WVC tournaments from 1960-2013, essentially from the time the first Civic Center was built.

With a convenient location and good venue with both Civic Center arenas, lobbying was unnecessary.

But this spring, the city is taking no chances, making presentations to commissioner Reid Amos and officials from MEC schools. Everybody from the mayor's office to the Convention and Visitors Bureau to Civic Center general manager John Robertson has joined the effort.

There is an eyeball or two peeking north at Wheeling, home of the MEC office and the city that wrested the high school football Super Six from Charleston two decades ago and hasn't let go.

There is sentiment in Wheeling that the city should make a run at the new tournament, touting the smaller Wesbanco Arena as a better environment for a small-college tournament. But blotting out a week of potential dates for the Wheeling Nailers hockey team could prove problematic. The Nailers used 37 home dates in the just-concluded season, 30 held between Thursday and Sunday.

And that came with the Nailers making a 19-day road trip in February. Charleston doesn't have that worry, and it has 50-plus years of experience putting on the event.

"The fact that they're a brand-new conference, this is one thing they wouldn't have to start from scratch," said Tim Brady, vice president of sales and services for the Charleston CVB. "The staff at the Civic Center and the community groups involved have done this for years. In my opinion, coming to Charleston would be one less thing they have to start from scratch."

Robertson has hosted three tournaments for years, too, the WVC and the two state high school tournaments. He is uncertain what format the Mountain East will use - for instance, will all 12 teams, men and women, come to the same site? - but he's ready for everything.

Well, almost everything. He understands the challenge that Amos and the MEC schools have in launching the new conference, but he can't block out the week ending March 1, 2014 forever.

 "We're going to have to get an answer pretty soon," Robertson said. "We've got people interested in booking dates. We're holding open the dates. We've got several clients that would like to move into those dates.

"I'd like to have [an answer] within weeks, not months."

Amos, pulling double duty and then some as MEC commissioner and vice president of broadcasting at West Liberty, did not return a call for comment.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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