BINGHAMTON — The differences were few. The arena — which seats 5,000 for basketball — is a little less spacious, the seats more sharply pitched, the noise level after a big basket equally loud as the Glens Falls Civic Center.
For the first time in 36 years, the State Boys Basketball Tournament was played somewhere other than the Civic Center, and by most accounts it went well this past weekend. The athletes, coaching staffs and fans seemed to enjoy their experience at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
Parking was difficult to find Friday because of the downtown Binghamton workforce and the fact the city was still cleaning up from 31 inches of snow that fell Tuesday and Wednesday. But people complained about parking in Glens Falls, too.
The lineup introductions were done one player from each team, rather than one team all at once, the way Glens Falls had done it. And for the finals, the introductions were done with the house lights off and spotlights.
On Friday, a Newfield fan had a sign that read, “bring the states back to Glens Falls.” Aside from that, there was no visible dissatisfaction with the host.
Bob Cimmino, the longtime head coach of Mount Vernon, said Saturday that his experience had been fine so far. But he also didn’t want to ruffle any feathers of friends from Binghamton and Glens Falls.
“The basketball court was fine,” Cimmino said. “I don’t know where the bathrooms are, I don’t know where the good food spots are. Those are my struggles right now.”
Attendance wasn’t what Binghamton organizers hoped for. This year’s three-day tournament attendance was 10,531, which is lower than any figure Glens Falls had produced since the 1980s. The 2016 tournament at the Civic Center drew 15,488.
Ben Nelson, the Section IV interscholastic sports coordinator and current tournament director, feels the tournament should move around, like the NCAA Final Four. But he is glad to have it and wants to do it justice.
“To me, it’s bittersweet because I love Glens Falls and going there,” Nelson said. “I’m there in the summers, up north, and I’ve known Putt LaMay and Doug Kenyon. They’ve done a great job and set a high standard that we’re trying to match.”
The organizers had a base upon which to draw for running a big tournament. The Stop-DWI Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament ran from 1992 through 2014.
“(This is) very similar, actually decreasing because we had 20 teams, and we played 20 games. Same number of teams, but this is only 15 games,” Nelson said.
Each team this year also was appointed an ambassador, someone to stay with the team and facilitate its stay any way he/she can.
“Anything they need,” Nelson said. “If they want to go to the mall, see a movie.
“We just want to make it as classy as we can, and make it enjoyable for everybody, as Glens Falls has done,” he added. “It’s about the people, when you come down to it.”
Glens Falls has made no secret of the fact that it wants the tournament back when it’s up for bid again starting with the 2020 event. Glens Falls always did well on making a profit for the NYSPHSAA. It ultimately lost the tournament, however, to a city that promised it could do it better.
Binghamton’s bid included no charge for rental of the arena and $30,000 to the NYSPHSSA for promotion of the event, made possible by two primary sponsors. Section IV was also responsible for about $20,000 for various expenses. United Health Service also donated the use of a physician and trainer throughout the tournament.
It was felt by many who were part of Glens Falls’ bid that lost to Binghamton that — while there were a few quibbles about the Civic Center’s locker-room facilities (since upgraded) — it was Binghamton’s rent-free guarantee and additional money to the NYSPHSAA that swayed section representatives’ votes. And it may have been, but NYSPHSAA President Robert Zayas wants to clear up the misconception that the lowest bid for a state championship will always win.
“First and foremost, we look at the facility,” Zayas said. “Is the facility capable of handling a quality state championship event for the kids? If it is, then we look at price. But we’ve turned down several bids because they’ve been really low in price, but it hasn’t been the quality we’ve wanted.”
As for the money this year’s tournament made, that won’t be known for a while. Attendance was down from 2016 despite having two Section IV teams — Newfield and Moravia — make the finals and getting good-traveling schools such as Moriah and Canton also in the finals. Zayas said he felt the Tuesday/Wednesday snowstorm hurt the overall number.
“Also, we only had one session Friday, and we’ve had two sessions Friday in the past, so that’s something we’ll be looking at,” Zayas said. “I think at the end of the day, the community of Binghamton provided a quality experience for the kids, and that’s my biggest concern.”