Basketball: State tourney likely moving to San Antonio

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Prior to each basketball season, locker rooms across the area are plastered with motivational photos of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, which has been the host city of the UIL state basketball tournament for the past 93 years.

Now, coaches might be scrambling to find some new pictures to show their team of their hopeful final destination.

The UIL announced Wednesday at its Legislative Council meeting that the state basketball tournament will most likely be moved from the Frank Erwin Center on the campus of the University of Texas south to San Antonio’s Alamodome, pending a final bid from the facility and official approval.

Ponder boys head coach Jude Stanley, whose team won the Class 2A state championship in March — the school’s fifth state championship in eight tries — said the projected move has been a long time coming.

In recent years, the growing South by Southwest music festival, which is held in Austin at the same time as the boys tournament, has caused area hotel prices to spike to astronomical rates for both fans and coaches across the state who use the state tournament as an annual meeting place.

The UIL arranges rooms for the qualifying teams at an affordable rate, but for Ponder in March, that meant staying in Round Rock nearly 20 miles away from the Erwin Center and facing a nightmare of a commute in morning traffic. Stanley said some teams were forced to stay in Marble Falls, which is 63 miles from the Erwin Center.

Ponder’s 2A semifinal game this year was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., and Stanley decided to leave the team hotel at 5:45 a.m.

“Our kids were out of bed by 5 a.m. that morning,” Stanley said. “They had to be. Normally for an 8 a.m. game you’re out of bed at 6, have some breakfast and you head to the game at 7. It was a concern for us to be there on time and to give ourselves time in case something happened — a wreck, rush-hour traffic, anything.”

UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said on Wednesday that he and the UIL staff are in favor of a move from Austin, where the tournament has taken place since 1921.

In March, he suggested the move could in the near future, as hotel prices skyrocketed to $500 per night in Austin for fans, even though teams were guaranteed cheaper rates, or were just not available.

“It’s either change the date or change the venue in the near future,” Breithaupt said after the 2014 tournament. “We’d like to move the date back first, but if that doesn’t work, we’ll have to look at other places.”

Moving the season to an earlier start would cause more conflict with football players crossing over to basketball on the boys side and volleyball players on the girls side.

“I think this [moving the tournament site] is the best of two not-so-good situations,” Stanley said. “I think UIL is doing everything they can to try to make it affordable again. We don’t care. They can move it to El Paso. We just want to be there.”

Stanley said he was told the total attendance of the state tournament this year had dropped to 66,000 from drawing more than 100,000 spectators in recent years, and the biggest reason was the availability and cost of hotel rooms due to South by Southwest.

In 2010, Stanley’s first year as Ponders’ head coach, the Lions won the last of three straight 2A championships in front of 17,500 fans. This past March, Ponder claimed its fifth title in front of 10,500.

“They have priced the average hard-working American out of it,” Stanley said. “Most normal people can’t pay $500 per night for a hotel. We’re not talking about the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, we’re talking about the La Quinta — nothing against La Quinta, but you know what I mean.

“I think it’s just time they do something. I’ll miss the Erwin Center from a basketball standpoint. It hurts me that we have fans in our community that couldn’t afford to go watch the Ponder Lions play. We had a great crowd, don’t get me wrong but we had people that couldn’t afford to come.”

ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.

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