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February 20, 2007

Given to Fly: MVC women’s tourney finally moving to neutral ground

TERRE HAUTE — The Missouri Valley Conference’s official announcement Tuesday to move the MVC Tournament to a neutral site in 2008 comes two years too late for Indiana State women’s basketball fans.

It is no given the Sycamores would have won the conference tournament the last two seasons when they were eliminated by the host teams in championship games in 2005 and 2006, but no doubts about fairness would exist had the tournaments been played on a neutral court.

It’s really not about the fans. It’s about the players who work for four years to reach the NCAA Tournament to see their dreams’ shattered partly due to a homecourt advantage.

The step is a large one forward, with the MVC joining all the BCS conferences as having a neutral site and the ninth in the nation to do so. The Mid-American Conference has home sites and a neutral site for the last two rounds.

The women’s MVC currently ranks 16th in the country in RPI ratings. The league enjoyed much more success when Missouri State and Drake were in their heyday near the end of the last decade.

The conference’s best days had to be when then Southwest Missouri State reached the Final Four in 1992 and 2001, MVC associate commissioner Patty Viverito said Tuesday when asked about where the neutral-court announcement ranks in the league’s history. So moving to a neutral court has to rank third in the league’s history of accomplishments.

It will take time and continued improvement by all 10 programs for the tournament to be a success on a neutral court. The benefits may not be seen right away.

Viverito said the conference is committed to staying at St. Charles (Mo.) Family Arena for more than the one-year contract upon which the parties agreed.

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