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Originally published Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Pac-12 tournament appears headed to Las Vegas

The Pac-12 basketball tournament has been played since 2002 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, with attendance declining in recent years. A deal has reportedly been struck to move the tournament to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas starting next year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Washington vs. Oregon State/Washington State winner, noon

Pac-12 men's tournament

First round, Wednesday, Staples Center

No. 8 Washington State vs. No. 9 Oregon State, 12:10 p.m.

No. 5 UCLA vs. No. 12 USC, 2:40 p.m.

No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 10 Arizona State, 6:10 p.m.

No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Utah, 8:40 p.m.

Quarterfinals, Thursday, Staples Center

No. 1 Washington vs. WSU/OSU winner, 12:10 p.m.

No. 4 Arizona vs. UCLA/USC winner, 2:40 p.m.

No. 2 California vs. Stanford/Arizona State winner, 6:10 p.m.

No. 3 Oregon vs. Colorado/Utah winner, 8:40 p.m.

Semifinals, Friday, Staples Center

Semifinal 1, 6:10 p.m.

Semifinal 2, 8:40 p.m.

Championship, Saturday, Staples Center

Championship game, 3:10 p.m.

Note: All games televised by FSN, except championship game, which is Channel 7.

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Goodbye Los Angeles, hello Las Vegas?

The Pac-12 tournament, which begins Wednesday, is likely making its last appearance at Staples Center.

According to multiple sources, the conference is nearing a deal to move the tournament to the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. An announcement is expected next week.

The deal is reportedly a two-year agreement with a 2015 option and is contingent upon approval from the conference presidents, who are expected to review the proposal this week. However, a Pac-12 spokesman said Tuesday the tournament's future has not been decided.

Staples Center has hosted the tournament since 2002, but California coach Mike Montgomery said: "There's got to be healthy discussion about a change." If he had a vote, Montgomery said he would opt for Las Vegas.

"It's worked for the conferences that have (gone) there," he said. "It would be a solid attraction for all of the fans around the league.

"If you go to a place like that you're going to have people from all over the conference saying, 'You know what? Let's go down. We'll get show tickets. We'll maybe play golf and do some other things and enjoy basketball,' so they would make it a trip and plan on it year after year."

If the Pac-12 moves to Las Vegas, it would likely be played the second week in March and compete with the Mountain West Conference tournament, which moved to the Thomas & Mack Center in 2007, and the Western Athletic Conference tournament, which is in its second year at the Orleans.

The West Coast Conference tournament, which plays the first week in March, has been at the Orleans since 2009.

It remains to be seen if Las Vegas could adequately host four tournaments in a short span.

"It would be a change if that happens, for sure," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "You've grown to be comfortable in L.A. There was talk about the tournament being moved around to different cities whether it be the Bay Area or the Northwest."

The Pac-12's agreement with Staples Center expires this year and the conference received bids from several cities, including Seattle, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, to host future tournaments.

Ralph Morton, president of the Seattle Sports Commission, said KeyArena would be a good site. Seattle has also bid to host the women's tournament.

"We offer a great building with a lot of opportunities," he said. "Plus, Seattle is a great place to visit. We've got a great fan base here within a short driving distance to four of their institutions. There's a lot of alumni in our marketplace."

One proposal under consideration was rotating the host site for the men's tournament each year among cities within the conference.

Between 1987 and 1990, the tournament bounced between four different sites before being discontinued due to poor attendance. It was played at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus, at the University of Arizona, the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and on campus at Arizona State.

"We've had it in different sites before and different venues and it's not worked out great, necessarily," Montgomery said. "The best thing is to pick a spot where people get used to going that's a good place where we can draw and has a lot of attraction for everybody.

"Certainly it would be great to have it in Washington, it would be great to have it in Oregon and it would be great to have it in the Bay Area, but I don't know if that's probably the best way to do it from the standpoint of establishing yourself and getting some consistency."

One thing is certain: Los Angeles isn't working.

The conference resurrected the tournament in 2002 at Staples Center, and initially it was a success at the gate.

At its peak, the tournament drew 84,477 fans in 2007, when it expanded to 10 teams. However, attendance has steadily declined each year since.

Attendance reached an all-time low at Staples Center last year when the tournament drew just 56,051 fans. Only 12,074 witnessed Washington's thrilling 77-75 overtime win over Arizona in the championship game.

This year, attendance is expected to fall once again.

UCLA coach Ben Howland, who spoke positively about the benefits of Los Angeles, admitted fans might be more inclined to attend the tournament in Las Vegas.

"The bottom line is wherever you have it, you want to have fans from all of the teams try to make it a yearly event where this is something that you go to each and every year," he said. "So it's got to be fun for the fans."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @percyallen

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