The Far West Classic it wasn't, but tourney idea has potential
KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS
Applause here for Oregon State's bid to re-establish a holiday basketball tournament in Portland.
Pause, though, at calling it the "Far West Classic" -- at least in its current form.
Back-to-back doubleheaders featuring Oregon State drew crowds of more than 8,000 Friday and Saturday night at Moda Center, and wins over Cal State Fullerton and Tulsa showcased the Beavers in front of Portland-area fans. That was a good thing.
But what was called the Far West Classic for the first time since the original event went dark in 1997 wasn't really a tournament at all.
It was two nights of scheduled twinbills -- the University of Portland versus Weber State and OSU versus Fullerton on Friday, the Pilots versus the Titans and the Beavers versus the Golden Hurricane on Saturday. This year's event involved five teams because Tulsa would commit to only one game, and the Beavers preferred Tulsa to Weber State as a second-game opponent.
A real four-team tournament would have scheduled games the first night, then the losers and winners meeting the second night.
That couldn't be done this year because at least one team -- the Pilots -- already was playing in a tournament, and schools are limited by the NCAA to one per season. It's a problem moving forward if Oregon State chooses to make it a winners-and-losers event, at least in the short term. The Pilots, for instance, already are scheduled for tournaments in 2016 and '17 -- the latter in Phil Knight's big 80th-birthday celebration shindig in Portland.
Oregon State instituted the Far West Classic as a four-team tournament in Corvallis in 1956. In 1960, OSU moved it to Portland's Memorial Coliseum, brought in Oregon as co-host and ran it as an eight-team event -- with each participating school guaranteed three games -- through 1989.
Two years later, the FWC became a four-team tournament. Soon it went kaput -- but not because fans weren't turning out. Oregon State drew 12,150 for Bradley and 13,415 for Oregon in the final Classic in 1996.
The problem was that by the 1980s, major programs were growing reluctant to give up two or three potential home dates while committing to what amounted to three road contests. And there was competition from such as the Aloha Classic and Great Alaska Shootout, which gained an "exempt" status -- meaning three games would count only one to a school's limit of regular-season games.
Oregon State's major goal this year was to play in the metropolitan area with its largest alumni and donor base. Mission accomplished.
"It was good," OSU athletic director Todd Stansbury says. "We sold a lot of tickets. A lot of our Portland-area fans didn't have to drive (an hour and a half) to watch us play. We're focused on bringing as many events to Portland as we can, in other sports, as well."
(Oregon State, incidentally, included the FWC as part of its season-ticket package, which seems unfair to fans down-state who don't want to drive to Portland for games just before Christmas.)
Now OSU administrators and coach Wayne Tinkle must take a look at what they want to do in Portland in the future. It appears the Beavers will be back for some kind of event next year.
"We're not contracted, but we have dates saved," Stansbury says. "The thing about basketball scheduling is there are so many moving parts. But we would love to continue doing this."
The ideal set-up would be to bring in a national name school along with a couple of mid-majors and play a two-night, two-game tournament with first-game winners advancing to a championship game.
"We would love to do something like that, but so much of it is dependent upon who is available," Stansbury says. "With so many exempt tournaments in exotic places, it changes the dynamic on what you can do. But playing a marquee opponent in Portland is something we definitely want to do."
If the event is in the same form as this year, the Pilots are willing to participate again.
"If not, we'll go with either Portland State or another regional school," Tinkle says.
"We haven't talked about that, but we wouldn't be opposed to it," Tinkle says. "People have told me stories about when the Coliseum was half green and half orange, and it was a cool deal.
"We're up for anything. It was a great atmosphere (in the Moda Center) the last two nights. It seemed like the fans enjoyed it. We love what we're doing in trying to get this thing going, and we're just going to carry it forward."
OSU administrators are investigating what it would take to gain the NCAA's "exempt" status, all the while hunting for a title sponsor.
"We did what we could this year to get it off the ground," Tinkle says. "Hopefully it grows to where we get great teams in here. Can we ever get it back to the way it was? Difficult with all the other tournaments and the money involved, but it's possible. We'll get creative and find a way to get something good done."
It's great to have the Beavers play an event in Portland. It would be fun to have the Ducks sign on. But again, unless it's a winners-move-on tournament, it's really not a tournament at all -- and probably shouldn't carry the "Far West Classic" label.