The Mirage Hotel, scene of the Las Vegas Invitational, has attempted to distance itself from tournament organizers (who, in turn, have tried to distance themselves from the Mirage).
Back in 2021, the training facilities for women’s basketball during March Madness made headlines – and not in a good way, when it was revealed on social media that the men had a full-on weight and fitness room while the women had a rack of dumbbells. (Oh, and NCAA’s claims that this was due to a space issue fell to the ground when University of Oregon's Sedona Prince took to TikTok and showed a cavernous empty space near that rack of dumbbells that could have been used for training equipment).
“If you’re not upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it,” Prince concluded.
This year, at the Las Vegas Invitational, women’s teams didn’t fare any better. The most egregious slight was the site: the Mirage Hotel & Casino.
According to Insider, “The two-day Thanksgiving weekend tournament featured nine Division I teams — including the undefeated top-10 Indiana Hoosiers — competing on the Las Vegas Strip at The Mirage hotel. But instead of playing under the bright lights of Sin City in the Athletes Unlimited-style setup they were promised, as Big Ten Network's Meghan McKeown reported, teams arrived to find a shoddy court situated in the corner of a ballroom.”
But the problems didn’t stop there. There was no seating for fans outside of banquet chairs pulled around the sports floor. The Indy Star noted, “Two televisions on a scorer’s table appeared to be the only scoreboards. The start of the game between Indiana and Memphis on Saturday was delayed by more than an hour after an Auburn player was injured in a game against Colorado State. It reportedly took paramedics more than 30 minutes to arrive to the venue.”
But wait, say the teams, there’s more. In addition to having absolutely no signage to the event for fans (or players, for that matter), athletes were asked to bring their own towels from their rooms because the event was not supplying them. Practices were held in middle school gyms.
“This is not what was described to us as far as what the venue was going to look like, what the setup was going to look like,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren told ESPN. “What was disappointing was the aesthetics; it's not a fan-friendly environment.”
The finger-pointing went in all directions, according to Insider: “Vegas Invitational site coordinator Ryan Polk told ESPN the event was "a one-time disaster" and promised not to return to The Mirage for future events. In response via a statement to ESPN's Michele Steele, the hotel insisted that "all decisions about seating, configuration of the venue and details such as the presence of emergency medical personnel and security were [Polk's] responsibility.”
“We will not be working with his company on future events,” representatives for The Mirage added.
Well, at least that seems to be mutual. And it’s quite likely The Mirage will be reluctant to host college basketball anyway. Ever, come to think of it.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that the website of the event owner, Destination Basketball, had been deactivated and representatives were not returning requests for comment.
ESPN spoke to UConn coach Geno Auriemma. The Huskies did not play in the tournament, but Auriemma had some strong words.
“It's probably the last time they'll get a good team to go to that tournament. It's almost that condescending kind of thinking, 'Yeah, wouldn't it be neat to have the gals come out here and play,’” he said.
Deadspin suggested that Indiana and Auburn pursue legal action against the organizers, stating, “From the pictures, it looked like a YMCA game masquerading as a major college basketball contest… Instead of spending a holiday with their families, these women flew across the country to participate in an event that was put together with a glue stick and scotch tape.”
And what happened in Vegas not only did not stay in Vegas, it went completely viral.
Social media simply roasted the tournament, with multiple tweets showing side-by-side photos of men’s teams playing in professional arenas – and the women in the ballroom, with its glitzy chandeliers, beveled ceiling and spectators sitting on chairs rather than bleachers. Some spectators can be seen standing to try to actually get a decent sightline.
One tweet noted, “Looks like they opened the wall between the two banquet rooms, pushed two dance floors together, had the food buffet cleared out and turned the DJ booth into the scorer’s table. What an absolute embarrassment and disgrace.”
Another person summed it up: “Things haven’t improved much since the March Madness weight room.”
At least the NCAA was in the clear this time; the Las Vegas Invitational wasn’t its event. The Review-Journal article stated, “An NCAA spokeswoman told reporters that in addition to having no role in the event’s operation, the group did not sponsor the tournament.”
The article went on to state that the spokeswoman noted that the NCAA also doesn’t certify the operation of multiple team events, but it does have rules for how such events should operate. In addition to stating that organizers should be providing courtside towel service to athletes, NCAA’s guidelines for women’s basketball games highlights expected safety elements. That section notes having access to proper medical assistance on site in the event care is needed, before, during or after a game.
In this case, the tournament definitely failed; the player who had to wait almost an hour for EMTs after she sustained a head injury – well, she can certainly attest to the fact that the event was not only disappointing but dangerous.