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NCAA bypasses Pit again as tournament hoops venue

N.C. State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano cuts down the nets after his team’s win for the 1983 NCAA championship at the Pit. While UNM’s home arena once regularly hosted NCAA Tournament games, it has been turned down again in its bid to host more in the near future. .(Brian Walski/Albuquerque Journal)

Phi Slamma Jamma and Jimmy V ain’t walking through that door.

Not like in 1983, when the historic Pit was still a venue considered not only NCAA Tournament worthy, but Final Four and National Championship worthy.

As the University of New Mexico on Wednesday celebrated announcement of its successful bid to host the 2023 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships (it was supposed to host the event in March, the same weekend sports across the country basically shut down due to coronavirus concerns), Lobo land was also delivered another dose of reality about its beloved, historic basketball arena.

The Pit, which last hosted an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament event in 2012 (first/second round games), was denied again in its bid to be a host site for any tournament games in the 2023-2026, four-year window of championship sites announced Wednesday by the NCAA.

“Following a thorough analysis of all submitted materials, the men’s basketball committee has made its selections for all rounds in those years, and your bid for Albuquerque, NM was not among those chosen,” NCAA Managing Director of Men’s Basketball Championships JoAn Scott wrote in a letter to UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez on Wednesday.

Upon request, Nuñez shared the letter with the Journal.

“We very much appreciate the time and effort that was put into preparing the bid materials, and for your interest in hosting one of the premiere sporting events in the country. The committee’s decision was difficult due to the high quality of all the bids submitted, and we very much encourage you to submit bids in the future for NCAA championships.”

UNM will now seek feedback on the failed bid, customary for such bids. It also sought feedback in 2016 when it was denied in the last bid cycle.

Nuñez said UNM will continue putting together the best bids possible for a wide variety of events, including some sports UNM doesn’t even have. He noted the hard work put in by Director of Event Management Brandon Kendrick and track/cross country coach Joe Franklin, in conjunction with help from the City of Albuquerque, to put together what is now two successful bids to host that NCAA Championship event, which is housed at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

As for basketball, the reality is the Pit, despite what may have been suggested as one of the primary reasons for the 2010 $60 million renovation, simply isn’t the same sort of huge, modern multi-purpose venue the NCAA is looking for anymore. Wednesday’s list of sites was almost entirely composed of venues whose primary occupants are professional sports teams.

For instance, while the fellow Mountain West members UNLV and San Jose State (and even the league itself) were awarded future sites, none is being played at a Mountain West venue.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the 2023 regional round will be hosted by UNLV at T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL’s Golden Knights, not the school’s 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center. San Jose State will host in 2026 at SAP Center, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. And the Mountain West hosts in 2023 and 2025 at Denver’s Pepsi Center, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

In 2016, some of the feedback UNM received about that failed bid included:

• No hanging video board (the Pit roof can not support such a video board, which also limits concerts and other events from using the Pit due to an inability to safely mount overhead lighting);

• Limited backstage and locker room space.

• The floor is too small. The Pit has concrete seating too close to the 94-foot by 50-foot court. The NCAA’s “bid specifications” manual states a floor of “60 feet wide by 116 feet long” is required, allowing for foot traffic around the court and behind the baskets.

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