39th Cable Car Classic Is Alive And Well

Dec. 28, 2005

By Dylan Hernandez
San Jose Mercury News

The Cable Car Classic has in the past counted North Carolina, Michigan State and Georgia Tech among its participants. The 39th edition of the basketball tournament is headlined by Bucknell.

The almost-ranked Bison will play Boston University tonight at the Leavey Center after Santa Clara faces UC-Riverside. Bucknell (8-1) starts the same lineup that upset Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.

But Bucknell's presence as a headliner underscores the increasing difficulty in attracting big-name programs to in-season tournaments. It's a problem not limited to Santa Clara or the Cable Car Classic. At Arizona's Fiesta Bowl Classic last week, the field included Sam Houston State, Central Florida and Western Kentucky.

At the root of the problem: money. Big-name schools can earn more by staying, and playing, at home.

``Economics have made it so much more profitable to book a home game if you have 9,000 to 10,000 season-ticket holders,'' Santa Clara Athletic Director Dan Coonan said. ``The economic pressures on athletic departments over the last 15 years have increased so much. Athletic departments are not getting more money from their universities for many reasons, and there's pressure to come up with revenue.''

That is particularly important at a time when coaches' salaries and scholarship costs are at all-time highs. And whatever profit is made in basketball and football helps athletic departments fund their non-revenue sports and the construction of new facilities.

``We were getting teams every year whose combined records were something like 34-4,'' Santa Clara Coach Dick Davey said. ``That's become harder to do.''

Consider Cal's Golden Bear Classic, where the opponents were Northern Colorado, Northeastern and Cal State-Northridge last month.

``Most of the high-majors, for obvious revenue reasons, have home games -- and they should,'' Cal Coach Ben Braun said. ``It's a business.''

The Cable Car Classic is a particularly tough sell because it is a two-game commitment. Schools that take part in the tournament are essentially burning two home dates.

Though the tournament's co-founder and director, Art Santo Domingo, has thought about turning the Cable Car into a festival-style event -- each team would play one game -- he said he intends to keep the tournament format as long as he can.

``It's like they're playing for something,'' he said. In addition, Santo Domingo said he has maintained his primary objective: to make the field competitive.

``Most tournaments are designed for the home team to win,'' Davey said. ``That's not the case here.''

Santo Domingo credits Davey and Santa Clara for that.

``Santa Clara is not afraid of playing anyone,'' Santo Domingo said. ``If they didn't want to play anybody, I wouldn't put on the tournament. I wouldn't want three patsies. It might be good for the team's record, but it wouldn't be good for the fans.''