COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Big South Conference Commissioner Kyle Kallander said bringing all its schools together at one tournament location was something basketball coaches had sought for several years.
Kallander and other league officials were in Myrtle Beach on Thursday to formally announce something Big South coaches had sought for years -- a season-ending tournament that looks like most others college basketball fans watch each March.
Both tournaments will feature VisitMyrtleBeach.com as the title sponsor. Expect a weeklong tournament schedule for all 12 member schools at Coastal Carolina's new arena in Conway with both the men's and women's championships taking place March 10 -- and giving the two winners a week or so to soak up the attention before the NCAA men's and women's tournament brackets are announced.
"There are several advantages to this," Kallander told the Associated Press by phone. "Finally, last year, we thought it was time to give it a shot."
The Big South men's title had formerly been contested the past 10 years in a sort of logistical hodge-podge since it staged its entire postseason in Roanoke, Va., in 2002.
The Big South's best teams got to host early-round games on their floors before moving to the home of the league's top seed for the semifinals. Then the action would shift to the highest remaining seed's home floor for the ESPN-televised finals.
UNC Asheville won the title this past March on its home floor of Kimmel Arena.
Kallander said the old format was a reward to the league's top regular-season finishers. Still, the coaches "really wanted all the teams and all the student-athletes to be together, to be at the same site and watch all the teams play," Kallander said. "They'd been talking about that for quite a while."
The women's tournament had been held one location -- most recently at The Millis Center in High Point, N.C. -- but a week after the men were done.
This time, the league will blend men's and women's play at Coastal Carolina's Student Recreation and Convocation Center, which is currently under construction on campus and on pace to be finished by August. The building is expected to seat 3,200.
The combined tournament opens with four men's first round games on March 5. The women's first round of three games -- VMI does not field women's basketball leaving the Big South with 11 schools in that sport - take place the next day.
The men's and women's quarterfinals take place Thursday and Friday. The remaining eight teams contest the men's and women's semifinals on Saturday before Sunday's championship games.
The tournament will be held at Coastal Carolina through 2015. Kallander said the league would likely wait a couple of years before deciding on future tournament sites.
Coastal Carolina athletic director Hunter Yurachek said the school built its new arena to host events like those and showcase the region. Yurachek said bringing all teams to one location "will give the student-athletes a better overall experience," he said.
Kallander said the changed format gives parents of players, schools and fans the chance to make plans in advance, unlike before when they had to sometimes wait for tournament results before knowing their next destination.
"It's much easier to understand," he said.
This move wasn't necessary, Kallander added, to put the Big South on par with other mid-major leagues like the Southern Conference or to keep existing members in place instead of exploring for other opportunities.
"I don't think institutions make a decision about what conference to be in because of a basketball tournament," he said. "But the more we can do to have successful events and for people to feel good about our basketball championships, that just helps the conference and the institutions overall."