What Ever Happen to the Vegas 16?
The Vegas 16 was a postseason tournament in 2016 played at the neutral site Mandalay Bay Events Center. Contrary to popular belief it did not field 16 teams, but instead 8. In the 2016 championship game Old Dominion defeated Oakland on March 30. In 2017 it was announced just four days prior to selection Sunday that they had suspended the 2017 edition of the tournament. To understand why a postseason tournament would seemingly make a one and done appearance we need to dive further into its lone year to examine.
The teams that were in the 2016 edition of the tournament were Tennessee Tech, Old Dominion, UC Santa Barbara, Northern Illinois, Oakland, Towson, Louisiana Tech and Eastern Tennessee. Courtesy of Eastern Tennessee State’s athletics we were able to obtain the average records and RPI’s of the four non NCAA postseason tournaments.
Average Record – Average RPI
NIT 21-10 – 84
Vegas 16 21-11 – 123
College Basketball Invitational 19-14 – 161
Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament 19-13 – 169
I feel like this information only leaves us with more questions why would a postseason tournament with teams averaging as many wins as NIT teams, and a considerably better average RPI than both the CBI and CIT cease to exist after only one year?
I was able to talk with Brian Nguyen an Oakland fan who traveled to Las Vegas to watch his team play. His impression of the tournament was: “I felt like there was a lot left to be desired with the production, I could see their vision, but it seemed like there was not enough money and labor for the tournament”. When I asked Brian how many fans he though there we he said three maybe for thousand at most across all the rounds. While these are certainly not great attributes to have associated with your tournament it typically should not be the kiss of death especially for a tournament that is just getting its legs under it in its first year of existence.
So that brings us back to the initial question why did it disband after only a year? Still searching for answers I was able to interview Jon Albaugh of BD Global Sports (the company that sponsored the tournament). I spoke with Jon about the selection process of the teams, and he said they had about three or four bigger name high major teams who had expressed serious interest, but they did not want to be the only one to go in on it. This caused a problem when one by one they started pulling their name out of consideration for various reasons from coaching firings to saying we have had a long season, and it’s time to pack it in, to not getting approval from administrations at universities. He did however say almost all the schools they contacted high and mid majors alike; finances to participate (usually for these types of tournaments $30,000 – 50,000 entrance fees) were not a problem. I asked if some of the rumors were true about if some of the teams in the mix at the time were NC State, Northwestern, and Boise State. Jon said they were unable to comment about any specific schools, but said that they are very thorough in their recruiting process saying that they looked at everybody from the ACC who was good enough to everybody in the America East who was good enough. He even mentioned that they had a staff member whose job from the middle of the season till march consisted of contacting programs from all across the country that met their criteria. He explained that they had a power five coach contact them, and tell them if it they had a tournament of 8 power five and Big East teams they would be in. This is because of the common feeling that for high majors in the NIT, CBI, Vegas 16 etc. is it’s all fun and games until you lose to a mid-major, and then the fan base is calling for the coach to be fired. I personally would love to see more high majors in these types of tournaments, but understandably it is for these reasons that the high majors often times choose to call it quits after their conference tournaments.
To bring a conclusion to this story I asked Jon about the future of the Vegas 16, or other possible events like it by their group, BD Global Sports, in the future. He said that in 2017 their business partner MGM Grand resorts actually wanted to bring back the event, despite it losing money last year, but ultimately they decided that the model was not a good one, and more losses were likely to occur. He said that “the idea was good, but that it wasn’t at the right time”. In conclusion, he said while you should never say never because the landscape of postseason college basketball could drastically change it is very unlikely the Vegas 16 returns.