MJ: Pressure Mounts on Greenville Gambit
While making my rounds with coaches of top programs in both MCLA-I and II in preparation for the Midsummer Night's Power Rankings, there were two constants in my numerous conversations. The first was there are about 10 coaches in each division who truly believe that they have the goods to win a national championship in 2012. Nothing new here. Autumn brings as many quixotic title contenders as leaf piles.
The second theme is more important, especially considering its impacts. It appears that nearly all of the teams who are annually in the hunt for the national championships have had to dial back their schedules in order to deal with the increased costs of moving the championship tournament from Denver to Greenville, S.C.
With a monstrous international airport inexpensively accessible from anywhere in the country, along with plenty of hotels and amenities that comes with a metropolis, Denver was probably the cheapest and most centrally located of all locales in respect to the association's overall membership.
Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is a stone's throw from this year's venue, but it was also ranked fifth in Forbes magazine's 2009 list of "America's Top 25 Rip-off Airports." With only a handful of flights coming in to Greenville, almost all of the teams – some of them navigating nearly the entire width of the country – will have to fly into either Atlanta or Charlotte and bus it in to Greenville, further increasing outlays.
Brigham Young head coach Matt Schneck has estimated that this year's (expected) trip to nationals will cost roughly three times as much as the jaunt to Denver, and his team's plight is not unique. Whether it's from the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest or the Southwest, programs are finding they have to stash dues once designated for regular season travel expenses for use at nationals.
Considering that the MCLA selection committee puts a large value on teams that travel to play quality teams, this is a critical, albeit unintended, consequence of the association's wanderlust. As always, there will be plenty of premium weekly intra-conference contests this spring. But it will be important to keep an eye on the schedules of those teams hunting for at-large bids, and compare those from year's past to see if they ran into an ironical scenario of scheduling themselves out of Greenville by preparing for it.
It should be noted that most of the coaches who admitted that the new MCLA tournament site would constrict their scheduling did not question the Greenville decision. The vast majority are taking a 'wait and see' approach, hoping that for all of the added cost, the new tourney locale may provide a better logistical product and raise the profile of the entire association. That's not terribly surprising. While it may cause strain on the purse strings, all of the MCLA programs – whether they make nationals or not – are both figuratively and literally invested in the success of the Greenville gambit.
At this point, still months away from testing the veracity of the smallish, South Carolina city, the stakeholders in the MCLA can remain optimistic about their new destination. But now that we know that the move will have a tangible impact on how the league operates, the pressure continues to mount on Greenville to meet, if not exceed, initial expectations.