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UO plays its aces, gets hoop tourney

As it turns out, Portland lost on two basketball fronts this week. On Sunday, the Blazers lost in Dallas; on Monday, the city lost in Wilsonville.

That's when the Oregon School Activities Association, based in Wilsonville, decided to bail out of Portland and move the Class 4A boys basketball state tournament to Eugene after a 38-year run at Memorial Coliseum.

And 'bail out' is the right way to look at it, too.

Bill Moos, athletic director at the University of Oregon, spoke in glowing terms Monday of how the Class 4A and 3A football state championships would succeed at Autzen Stadium, how prep football would improve by having a 'destination' at the end of the season.

He barely mentioned the basketball tournament.

Later, after the 12-member Executive Board put its stamp on UO's bid to host the 4A and 3A football championship games as well as the 4A hoop tournament and the state track and field meet, Moos confirmed that the basketball tourney was simply a bonus for Eugene. The UO agreed to cap its rental charges for football and basketball to save the OSAA around $25,000 per year.

Unfortunately for Portland, the OSAA has made what looks like a good move, despite the fact that more than half of the 4A basketball teams are closer to Portland than Eugene and more than half the quarterfinalists, virtually every year, are from Portland.

Portland simply doesn't have any advocates left on the prep sports scene, not the way Eugene does, thanks to the University of Oregon. So, the $3 million in economic activity that comes with those two events will be headed to Eugene Ñ not Portland Ñ for at least the next five years.

Moos smiled broadly at the thought of landing the prep events for his town.

'I'm happy that we can bring these events to our community and, in a way, pay back the people and businesses that have done so much for us,' he said. 'There's a real partnership there, and this is part of our commitment to that.'

Portland's primary advocate in prep sports is the Oregon Arena Corp., which manages the Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden.

J.E. Isaac, Oregon Arena's vice president for business affairs, said he got a strong feeling that the

OSAA was moving to Eugene no matter what numbers Oregon Arena produced in its bid.

'I think they were interested in being a bigger fish in a smaller pond,' Isaac said. 'There's nothing we could do about that.'

Drew Mahalic, chief executive officer of the Oregon Sports Authority, sounded upbeat about the move, not because it takes an event out of Portland but because the tournament might be more successful in Eugene and fan-friendly McArthur Court.

'This isn't a mistake by anyone in Portland but just the U of O doing a great job of taking advantage of an opportunity,' Mahalic said. 'They put together a clever plan to attract potential students to their campus.'

OSAA Executive Director Tom Welter pointed out that the state's love affair with Memorial Coliseum has faded.

'When the Blazers won the NBA title in 1977, every kid in Oregon wanted to play on that court,' Welter said. 'I don't know if that's true today.'

Portland's best advocate in bringing the 4A tournament back in five years might be the Trail Blazers themselves, not only with their winning percentage but in their community involvement.

That's just another thing to tack onto the search for a new president and general manager.