It was 9 o'clock on Saturday and the regular crowd had long since shuffled in, creating a rattle and hum at Mohegan Sun that proved not everybody in this life is miserable. And it was right about then that some folks inside Mohegan Sun Arena, happy basketball fans of Waterford High among them, were about to join the revelers in the mall area of Neon Uncasville, all making merry.
Some shopped, others ate. Some shopped and ate simultaneously. People sang to the music. There was a big screen that seemingly fell from the sky with the NCAA tournament on it. Restaurants had lines out the door. People smiled. No worries in the world that couldn't wait for a while.
If it is the intention of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body for high school athletics, to turn its basketball championships into a can't-miss weekend event, the aforementioned scene said it all.
Now for today's question: Why would the CIAC ever consider leaving all this?
No, it is not imminent. Plenty of time for discourse. But there is no contract in place for next year because of, essentially, logistics.
Mohegan Sun would like to reserve Friday night of championship weekend open for other potential events in the arena, asking the CIAC to move the games to Saturday and Sunday. The CIAC would have to change its bylaws to allow games on Sundays, which have happened only under special circumstances in the past.
Tournament director Bob Cecchini and Paul Hoey, the associate executive director of the CIAC, told Waterbury Republican-American columnist Joe Palladino that principals and school superintendents - essentially the CIAC's legislators - might not support playing on Sunday.
"I don't know if I can sell Sunday to the boards of education and superintendents," Cecchini said.
"We'd have to go to a vote of the membership because it would be a change in the bylaws," Hoey said. "The full membership would have to weigh in. We would have to convince the superintendents that it is the right thing to do because there is no alternative."
What a sad sentence. "Convince the superintendents that it is the right thing to do because there is no alternative." As if playing at Mohegan Sun is some necessary evil. And not the single greatest thing that's ever happened to high school sports in Connecticut.
That's right. Mohegan Sun officials provide CIAC their building rent free. They feed the players, coaches, administrators, officials, media and other hangers on. The building's capacity, environment, free parking, shops and restaurants make for a weekend event, not just a bunch of games.
And still, this issue hovers like smoke in the gaming area.
A perfectly viable argument could be made in Mohegan Sun's favor, given the dearth of other choices in the state. The XL Center and Gampel Pavilion often bid as sites for the NCAA women's basketball tournament's first two rounds on the same weekend. Central and Quinnipiac aren't big enough. Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport remains an option. But would it come rent free and draw the whisper shy of 17,000 people Neon Uncasville just did?
But the better argument is this: What is best for the kids?
The kids. You know. Them. The reason we do this.
How comes nobody ever asks them?
So, as an ever inquisitive soul, I did this weekend. On winning and losing teams. Boys and girls. It was unanimous: They love it at Mohegan Sun. Most of them flashed the "well, duh" look when asked if it should become the tournament's permanent home. And the looks on their faces after exiting the team bus and seeing the arena floor for the first time were priceless: wide-eyed and full of hope and wonder.
Are you following along, all you bylaw-makers?
And one more thing: Personal whims have no place interfering with this. Neither does the old slippery slope argument. You know: If we allow basketball to be played on Sunday, what's next?
Please. This is an extraordinary circumstance. Not to mention the CIAC's marquee event.
Mohegan Sun has been quite generous to the CIAC in recent years. Sunday games are a reasonable request. Note to the CIAC: Don't screw this up.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.