When you think of Boise State athletics, the blue turf at its football stadium and the remarkable success of its football team are most likely the first things that come to the mind.
Lobo fans might not think of Broncos basketball as its peer, even.
But the Lobos went and won on that blue turf last November. And Boise State has been a hoops nemesis, winning not only both meetings on the court in the 2014-15 season, but also snatching a bid to host NCAA Tournament play that UNM really wanted.
“To me, Boise is the surprising one,” said Mike Haggerty, UNM’s assistant athletic director of events, who says he understands why many other major venues were chosen as the Pit has been shut out in recent bidding.
“Their attendance at games isn’t what ours is. When you think of Boise, you don’t think of a basketball town like ours.”
The NCAA, however, might disagree.
Since opening in 1982, the arena has held the men’s NCAA Tournament eight times: 1983, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2009.
“And I’ll bet there have been more times that we didn’t get it than we did get it,” said Max Corbet, Boise State’s assistant athletic director/media relations. “It’s never been a huge thing not getting it or getting it. We just wanted to stay in the rotation, and most of the time we expect not to get it.
“Now, 20 years ago, there were not that many arenas in the West. There was the Pit, Salt Lake City, Arco (in Sacramento) and us. There’s many more today. The last time the arena had it was 2009. We were on a three-year rotation for a little bit.”
It is also used for concerts and many community events. It was the site of the 2013 second-round tie of the tennis Davis Cup between the United States and Serbia. Besides adding a hanging scoreboard, which has screens on all four sides, the Taco Bell Arena also has video screens in all four corners around the court.
The NCAA’s David Worlock, director of media coordination and statistics, said bids have been awarded to arenas “as big as 23,000 seating capacity for the first and second round and as low as 10-to-12,000.”
Corbet said Taco Bell Arena seats 12,480 for regular-season games and just more than 12,000 for the NCAA Tournament. The Pit would seat roughly 14,000 for the NCAAs.
Corbet said the arena has had numerous other upgrades during the years, including different chairs, adding seats, a new floor “and everything that we can do to keep it a nice, first-class building.”
Haggerty doesn’t believe a lack of a suspended over-the-court scoreboard has been a deal-breaker for UNM. Greg Remington, former UNM sports information director who was involved in past Lobo NCAA bids agreed, but said, “I do know the NCAA prefers them.”
Corbet said the Taco Bell upgrades weren’t intended just to attract the NCAA Tournament.
“No. 1, we’re interested in the fan experience for our fans,” he said. “… Our fans also like the idea of having the NCAA basketball tournament here. They’ve sold it out every time we’ve had it and enjoy it. … That’s kind of played into it, but I wouldn’t say we’ve been doing renovations or doing upgrades to our facility just so we can get the NCAA basketball tournament again. … It’s not paramount.”
When the Journal showed Haggerty a copy of Boise State’s 2014 proposal for bids to host for 2016, ’17 and ’18 – they won a bid for 2018 – Haggerty shook his head.
“The Boise budget and their expenses are twice as much as we said our expenses would be, and their revenue is half of what we proposed,” Haggerty said. “Their expenses are $546,000 to ours of $242,000. Their revenue is $1.6 million (for ticket sales) and ours was, like, $3.1 million. It doesn’t make sense.”
Haggerty said he became even more infuriated and perplexed when seeing the Boise State numbers, but that “We really can’t do much more with the expenses,” when it comes to making a bid.
“There were some things in 2014, like Howard Broadcasting, which was hired to do all the press conferences, they said they couldn’t get their feed through all of our internal channels, so were going to address that and make sure that is OK,” he said. “The other thing they said is the wireless, but were taking care of that as well. But we really can’t reduce our expenses any more than we did before.”