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Chuck Landon: El Paso showed C-USA the money

May. 22, 2010 @ 12:13 AM

"Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, C-USA fell in love with mucho dinero. ..."

Sorry, Marty Robbins, but I just couldn't help myself.

After Conference USA's muy curioso decision to award the 2011 men's basketball tournament to the league's farthest flung outpost -- namely, the El Paso of Robbins' singing fame -- the song just got stuck in my head.

It played over and over and over.

So, finally, I decided to play it backwards to see if there were any hidden messages. ... such as The Beatles' "Paul is dead" or, in this case, "Britton is brain-dead."

And guess what?

There was.

Played backwards it said, "Grab the pesos and thumb your nose at Memphis."

Which is just about what this entire decision amounted to.

El Paso offered Conference USA a $1 million guarantee -- that's $1,297,400 in pesos -- for the rights to host the C-USA Tournament in the 12,222-seat Don Haskins Center.

El Paso also offered 100 percent of any profit after the guarantee. Memphis countered with a $750,000 guarantee, a 50/50 split after the $750,000 and its usual amount of arrogance.

As my amigos in Juarez, Mexico, say, "Money hablas and adios Memphis."

That was certainly the case this week during C-USA's spring meetings in Destin, Fla. When the El Paso contingent ante upped a $1 million guarantee along with unbridled enthusiasm, Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky made a run for the border.

"The group was very impressed by the El Paso proposal," said Banowsky. "We felt confident we would have a great experience."

There's just one sizable problem.

Although league officials might have a great experience with the tourney being held in El Paso, it's very doubtful that C-USA fans will.

Especially those residing in East Division locales.

El Paso is 1,686 miles from East Carolina; 1,512 miles from UCF; 1,428 miles from Marshall; 1,149 miles from UAB; 1,008 miles from Southern Miss; and 982 miles from Memphis.

What that translates to -- in English or Spanish -- is what's certain to be an all-time low turnout of fans from any Conference USA schools other than UTEP.

It's not that folks can't get there from here, it's just how costly and time-consuming it would be.

For example, if Marshall fans were to book their round-trip flights today from Tri-State Airport to the C-USA Tournament in El Paso scheduled for March 2011, the lowest fare they could find is $611 on Delta Airlines.

And here's the clincher.

The trip would take 10 hours and 12 minutes.

Marshall fans would have to depart at 6 a.m. and arrive at 2:12 p.m. Mountain Time, which would be 4:12 p.m. EST.

Who is going to do that?

A meager few, at best.

But it didn't have to be that way. If Memphis would have canned its attitude and matched El Paso's offer, the 2011 C-USA Tournament would have been in the FedExForum.

But, instead, the always pretentious, often paranoid Memphis attitude prevailed. Their arrogance was so overwhelming that, according to sources, even when C-USA countered with an offer to give the 2012 tournament to Memphis that wasn't good enough.

Memphis was too busy being insulted and leaving in a huff.

Pardon me while I chuckle.

I'd like to say hold the burritos and pass the Beale as much as the next guy. But I also prefer sour cream to sour grapes.

I have a feeling C-USA officials feel the same.

That's why El Paso had Banowsky at hola.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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