The Lone Star Conference has taken pride in hosting the best conference tournament in NCAA Division II for the last 16 years. The conference went to a neutral site in Bartlesville, Okla., for four years before moving to the Allen Events Center from 2012-2017.
The tournament moved to the Comerica Center in Frisco in 2018. Outside of the year when CoVID forced the tournament to move to campus sites, the LSC tournament has been at a neutral site for 15 of the last 16 years.
However, talks have circulated about returning the conference tournament to campus sites for a few years. According to sources, those talks have recently picked up steam, with one athletic director having considerable influence in the conference beginning to push for a return to campus sites.
Naturally, the conversation revolves around money first and foremost.
It’s not cheap to rent the building each year. The cost has come under more scrutiny as universities continue dealing with the pandemic's financial impact and the departure of Tarleton and Texas A&M-Commerce to Division I.
In addition, declining attendance figures in recent years have added to the financial stress of having the tournament at a neutral site. Attendance was consistently strong when Allen hosted the event and remained strong for the first two years in Frisco. The showcase saw a dip in attendance during 2020, which was held days before the country was shut down due to the pandemic.
Attendance was down when the tournament returned to Frisco in 2022, as fans were also dealing with the financial impact of the pandemic. This year, attendance was low on Thursday and Friday, with many fans working during the games. The number of fans on Saturday and Sunday this year resembled those of 2018, which is a good sign moving forward.
The Lone Star Conference presents a first-class event that beats the fan experience at some mid-major conference tournaments. But some coaches wish to return to campus sites to give the top seed a distinctive advantage.
“There’s nobody here, and it’s not worth the money,” one coach said. “The best team in the regular season should have home court advantage in the conference tournament.”
“That’s crazy,” another coach said about using campus sites. “It won’t help attendance because you might have a couple of thousand when the home team plays, but not many people will travel three to eight hours to watch their team play in the conference tournament at a remote location.”
Placing the tournament at the home court of the highest seed could mean the LSC tournament being held in Silver City, N.M., or Fort Smith, Ark. while keeping the tournament at a neutral site allows fans to plan to attend.
Having the tournament on campus sites would indeed save the LSC some money in facility rental, but some coaches believe it’s worth the cost to keep the tournament in Frisco.
“We love coming to Frisco,” one coach said. “It’s special for our players, and it’s great for us as coaches, too, because having the tournament at the Comerica Center helps to recruit kids from the Metroplex.”
With money being the main issue affecting the decision of some athletic directors and presidents, could the LSC tournament soon move to a new venue? Sources indicate the City of Wichita Falls is interested in hosting the event at Kay Yeager Coliseum and could place a bid for the conference tournament soon.
According to sources within the Lone Star Conference office, the tournament will unlikely move outside the Metroplex as long as it’s held at a neutral location.
“This is a great area for our conference,” one source said. “Many of the schools in our conference have a good amount of alumni in the DFW Metroplex that come every year.”
One LSC coach had a different reason for not moving the tournament to Wichita Falls or any other neutral site that could give a team more of a home court advantage.
“If Midwestern State ever becomes good again in men’s basketball, playing the tournament in Wichita Falls would give them a huge advantage,” the coach said. “There ain’t no way in hell any coach in this league wants to play MSU in Wichita Falls if they start winning again.”
Many coaches favor continuing to hold the LSC tournament at the Comerica Center and feel the neutral site makes the tournament more fair and entertaining. It’s tough to advocate moving the tournament from Frisco after watching the LSC semifinals and finals.
The men’s semifinals were decided by 10 points this year, while the women’s semifinals featured a record-setting performance from 3-point range for TWU (13-of-18). Both championship games on Sunday were decided by one point.
“Who would want to play on a campus site after the last two days of the Lone Star Conference tournament,” one coach eliminated in the semifinals said after the title games. “These were unbelievable games!”