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MW Coaches Ignored on 8-team Tournament Decision

Mountain West Conference basketball coaches confirmed that neither they nor at least the majority of the school Athletic Directors were aware that the MWC Presidents would consider, much less approve, limiting the conference post-season basketball tournaments to eight teams for the men and women, according to an exchange of emails obtained under public record laws.

UW head coach Larry Shyatt was publicly reprimanded by the Mountain West for speaking out.
UW head coach Larry Shyatt was publicly reprimanded by the Mountain West for speaking out.

The public records request were made by Cheyenne attorney Jack B. Speight and sports writer Tracy Ringolsby. They were assisted by attorney Jim Anest of Parker, Co.

The agenda for the Presidents' meeting also did not indicate the issue of the number of teams in the men and women's basketball tournament was going to be discussed.

The eight-team tournaments are scheduled to begin next March.

The public information requests were submitted to the presidents of the University of New Mexico, San Diego State University and Boise State University, who were believed to have been behind the reduction of teams, and MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson. The three schools provided requested information, but the MWC refused on grounds it is a non-profit organization, even though it is funded by and represents 12 institutions, 11 of which receive state funds and the 12th, Air Force, is funded federally.

Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt was publicly reprimanded by the MWC for speaking out on the subject on behalf of league coaches, claiming the coaches were blindsided by the decision.

San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher sent a query to the other MWC basketball coaches to determine if they had been consulted by their athletic directors or school presidents.

“Hopefully you remember the discussion we had in May at the Arizona Biltmore where we unanimously voted for all the teams to participate in the tournament,’’ Fisher wrote.

Fisher said he was on the committee that considered moving the tournament from the Thomas and Mack, the home court of Nevada Las Vegas, to the MGM Grand.

"Commissioner Craig Thompson asked point blank if we could reduce field to eight to get us into the MGM Garden Arena,’’ wrote Fisher. “I said emphatically no, that no one was in favor of that. In that room at the time were Dave Rice, the UNLV head coach at the time; Air Force’s Dave Pilipovich; myself; and Commissioner Thompson along with the AD at Nevada, the Assistant AD at Wyoming and either the assistant or the AD from Vegas.”

UNLV's home court of the Thomas & Mack Center regularly hosts the MW tournament.
UNLV's home court of the Thomas & Mack Center regularly hosts the MW tournament. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USATODAY)

Fisher also took exception to claims by Robert G. Frank, president of the University of New Mexico, that the decision to eliminate three teams from both the men and women tournaments was not a financial issue, but designed to enhance the opportunity for multiple MWC teams making the NCAA tournament.

“He spoke about enhancing the RPI by not having to play lower teams, when in reality, 1-5 get byes in the first round anyway,’’ wrote Fisher. “So they wouldn’t play anyone other than someone in the top eight. So that logic is hard to justify.”

In emails that were obtained, the coaches not only were not consulted but were surprised by the vote of the Presidents.

“I found out about the decision after the fact,” wrote Nevada coach Eric Musselman. “Was never consulted. This is a travesty for the student athlete, fans and coaches!!!”

Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said he was never informed, and “My AD, who is fairly new, and President were not in favor of the reduction. I was told that our President spoke on behalf of keeping the number at 11.”

Boise State coach Leon Rice said he was not asked for his opinion by Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle or President Bob Kustra.

“I never knew about it until I read about it,’’ Rice wrote. “A colossal waste of time for us to go to meeting in May, debate and vote on things and have it not matter the least. I feel like we should not go to the meetings this spring. We could do our stuff on a video conference.”

San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik said, “This make our league look very bad and definitely not a top tier league. Also, where is the wealth of the student athletes as they are always talking about. This is not a good decision overall.”

The coaches reportedly are optimistic that on reconsideration the league Presidents will vote to retain an 11-team tournament instead of eliminating three teams.