- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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SEATTLE -- Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is in the Emerald City this week, observing the new setting for his postseason women’s basketball tournament. He likes what he sees.
“This is certainly a big step forward,” Scott said.
After a dismal few years in Los Angeles, where tournament attendance lagged from its previous home in San Jose, Calif., things are picking up.
Friday night’s quarterfinal games, which featured both Washington and Washington State, drew 5,452 fans to KeyArena, home court of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. It marked the best attendance for the quarterfinals in the 12-year-old tournament's history.
The conference is working with the Storm’s marketing arm, Force 10 Sports Management, to boost interest and attendance.
“We are well ahead of where we were the last four years,” Scott said. “We feel like the event and student-athletes deserve to play in front of good-sized crowds, that’s important for us. I think the coaches and athletes feel like this is the caliber of the NCAA tournament.”
The Pac-12 has a three-year deal in Seattle, but Scott wouldn’t rule out staying longer.
"One of the things we like about this market is a strong fan base and interest in women’s basketball,” Scott said.
He addressed a range of topics related to women’s basketball, including officiating, the conference’s television network and whether he would actively advocate for the return of the Women’s Final Four to the West Coast. College sports’ premier women’s sports event hasn’t been on the West Coast since San Jose hosted in 1999. Last year’s Final Four in Denver was as far west as it has been since.
"Absolutely, it is something we would look at,” Scott said, adding that with changes at the NCAA, with Mark Lewis installed as the new head of championships, he is waiting to see Lewis’ evaluations of both the rotation of the Final Four and also the size of the venues that the NCAA will seek in the future.
“We would need some clarity going forward on whether we are playing in traditional basketball arenas or larger venues,” Scott said. “I think it would help in a macro way in terms of raising interest in women’s basketball in this part of the country.”
The commissioner also said he’s prepared to “tweak” the Pac-12 network’s televised schedule of women’s games, which included 60 games this season.
He said he is getting feedback from coaches and athletic administrators regarding start times and the current arrangement in which teams are playing their rivalry games twice in one week to condense the schedule.
“The coaches didn’t love that,” Scott said. “It will be one of the things that we look at.”