By SCOTT W. COLEMAN
The University Interscholastic League approved the staff’s recommendation to move the boys and girls state basketball tournaments out of Austin among other rule and administrative changes, at its summer legislative meeting last week in Round Rock.
Officials said overcrowded conditions, due to the annual SXSW festival, and the high cost of hotels in Austin during the SXSW period which coincides with the state basketball tournaments, have resulted in a substantial decrease in attendance and complaints from schools around the state.
UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said that crowds at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center — home to both the boys and girls state tournaments since 1978 — have been decreasing steadily over the past several years, coinciding with the growth of SXSW.
Breithaupt said the boys state basketball tournament drew as many as 100,000 people over the three-day period just a few years ago, but fewer than 80,000 attended this year’s tournament.
Because ticket sales help recoup some of the cost of holding the tournament, the decrease in attendance is a key factor. However, another important factor is the report that some hotels in the Austin area increased their rates to more than $600 a night. Some schools attending the tournament were forced to get hotels 50 miles or more outside of downtown Austin and drive in daily to the Erwin Center.
UIL officials said that a team of staffers has been looking at options for some time now, but only one facility looks to have the capability of meeting UIL’s needs for the state tournaments: San Antonio’s Alamodome.
The 72,000-seat Alamodome was the home of the San Antonio Spurs for nearly a decade before the team moved to the AT&T Center in 2002. However, the facility was built primarily for football and was deemed a poor fit for hosting basketball games. Still, because UIL officials say that splitting up the boys and girls tournaments — which occur a week apart — isn’t on the table, the Alamodome is the only facility that appears to meet the UIL’s needs.
The decision to move the tournament to the Alamodome isn’t considered a permanent fix, though. The City of Austin and University of Texas have been very active in trying to retain the tournaments, which have been hosted in the state capital for 93 years. UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement said that the university is looking forward to bringing the tournament back to Austin in the near future.
Other UIL action
The UIL board also agreed to open up the state football tournament to bids from cities around the state. UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said that the new bid system will help the UIL rotate the state football championships to different locations, with Houston and San Antonio expected to make bids to host the UIL’s preeminent event.
In other action taken at the UIL meeting, the board approved the adoption of cheerleading as an official UIL competitive sport, under what is known as a ‘pilot program.’ The Game Day Cheer program would need to pass a future vote by the legislative council to become a permanent addition.
The new UIL 6A classification — which will include LISD’s Rouse High School this fall — will award home field advantage for the bi-district round of the football playoffs under a pilot program. In order to take effect, the UIL’s legislative council would need to approve the move at its October meeting.
Starting with the 2014-15 season, there will be another qualifier for the state cross country meet, after the UIL approved a rule change allowing the top four teams in each of the four regions to advance to the state meet. Previously, only the top three qualifiers advanced.
Perhaps one of the most controversial agenda items involved the possible adoption of a mercy rule in 11-man football. The state received substantial news coverage last season, when eventual Class 4A D-II state champion Aledo ran through its regular season schedule in dominating fashion, outscoring four opponents by 70 points or more, including a 91-0 win over Ft. Worth Western Hills — an in-district opponent. The proposal to adopt a mercy rule failed.