Originally created 08/29/98

Southern looking for a new 'home'



GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Greensboro Coliseum, cutting its losses with the Southern Conference, announced Friday that it had renegotiated its contract for this season's men's basketball tournament and dropped the event in the year 2000.

The coliseum lost an estimated $500,000 on the poorly-attended tournament the previous three years, officials said. The four-day event has never drawn more than 20,000 fans in the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference country.

"We want to go to a community where we can be considered a main attraction," said Southern Conference commissioner Alfred White, who was left to pick up the pieces of a contract negotiated by former head man Wright Waters.

At the time, Waters moved the popular tournament from Asheville, an arena that seated about 6,600, to the spacious 21,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum. In retrospect, it was a major mistake.

"I am now looking for some place that will embrace us." White said.

Both parties said the renegotiation was mutual and not paramount to raising the white flag.

"The optimism on our end is we'll go into a tournament this year without a cloud hanging over our head to where the newspapers and the media are talking about the finances of it all instead of basketball," said Geoff Cabe, director of Southern Conference championships.

"This just puts the tournament in a different light in the community. All of the sudden it's a positive thing, where before it was sort of a political thing and you had to pick which side of the fence you were on," he said.

The original five-year contract with the conference had become a financial and logistical nightmare for the coliseum and staff -- and as both parties finally realized -- was unrealistic.

Coliseum Director Matt Brown said this season's guarantee to the Southern Conference was renegotiated down from $200,000 to $70,000, while next season's $250,000 guarantee was voided, in essence saving the coliseum about $350,000. Sponsorship rights have also been switched from the coliseum to the conference.

"We needed to clear the slate," Brown said. "I think they are going to grow to appreciate that."

Another miscalculation was ticket pricing. A book for the tournament was $60, a mark Brown said Friday was way too high for the product.

"That was set based on the ACC," Brown said. "Well, it's not the ACC. You don't have that built-in required demand that you are buying the tickets to secure them.

"That was the biggest mistake to begin with, that there was this ticket price that wasn't there. These tickets need to be valued to what you would see your school charging on campus -- $8, maybe $5 for students. The whole deal didn't allow that to happen."

White said he'll start fielding bids from areas that would like to host the tournament in 2000 and beyond. Some early front-runners could be Charleston or Greenville, both South Carolina cities which boast new facilities.

However, Brown and White didn't rule out a return to Greensboro.

"They get to go feel out other communities. My guess is they'll be back, maybe in 2003 or something like that," Brown said.