Rine: Bring MEC Tourney To Wheeling

WHEELING – With the college basketball world officially saying goodbye last weekend to the West Virginia Conference men’s and women’s tournaments, a thought – well, several – popped into my head.

For one, there’s still no word from the newly formed Mountain East Conference, which will include West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit beginning next school year, as to where the group’s headquarters will be located. Furthermore, we are also unsure of where it will contest its conference basketball tournaments, easily the most successful and well-attended events for the soon-to-be defunct WVC.

Let me be the first to say: bring them to Wheeling’s WesBanco Arena.

Considering the Voice of the Hilltoppers, Reid Amos, who is also vice president of broadcasting at the school, is set for his first year as MEC commissioner, conventional wisdom says the conference will need to put down its roots somewhere in the Ohio Valley, thus affording Amos the opportunity to also continue his responsibilities at West Liberty.

Why WesBanco?

For starters, it would be unfair to hold them on campus at either Wheeling Jesuit or West Liberty, which by the way, don’t offer enough seating, anyway. Secondly, reports indicated that attendance for the Hilltoppers men’s victory against Fairmont State last Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum were in the neighborhood of 5,000. It should be noted that number probably received a boost from the fact the Falcons women played and won the women’s championship earlier in the day.

The logical thought here, is that attendance would be far better and the atmosphere considerably more impressive in a facility that seats roughly 5,600. Can you imagine what the crowd would look like if the Cardinals and Hilltoppers squared off in the semifinals, as they did Friday in front of a sparse crowd in a building that can hold 13,000?

”We would definitely have an interest,” WesBanco Arena executive director Dennis Magruder said Monday, noting that he has not been contacted by anyone representing the conference. ”It would be very good for the community.

”It would bring people into hotels, they would be downtown in restaurants.

”We’re perfect size and with the new floor, expansion of hotels, it would probably make sense. And I think we both know Wheeling Jesuit and West Liberty are going to be very good basketball teams in the near future.”

As with anything, there are drawbacks. At the top of the list for Magruder is his relationship with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, who call the arena home. He said it would take a lot of ”working through hoops” with the club, noting that WesBanco Arena would be unavailable for hockey for an entire week.

”The Nailers are a fine tenant and the conference tournament would be on a a very specific weekend every year,” Magruder said. ”There are already several times during the winter where the arena is unavailable to the Nailers.”

The Nailers had a total of three February home games this season, and cutting into March would seem to be a substantial disadvantage for the club.

Looking strictly at geography, a move from Charleston to Wheeling would benefit seven of the 12 schools in the league.

On average, Wheeling Jesuit, West Liberty, Urbana, Fairmont State, Shepherd, Notre Dame College and Seton Hill would be spared 107 miles of travel. The flip side of course, is that Charleston, West Virginia State, Virginia-Wise, Concord and Glenville State would be forced to travel an average of an extra 134 miles.

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at srine@theintelligencer.net