The Texas state basketball tournaments have been held in Austin since 1978, when the University Interscholastic League decided to stage all of its semifinals and finals at the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center for reasons of atmosphere, convenience and location. A lot has changed since then, and now the annual appeal of Austin come tournament time is making the state semis and finals an absurdly expensive trip for fans from out of town.
How come? Four letters: SXSW.
The South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival -- or SXSW, as more commonly written -- runs simultaneously with the final stages of UIL's basketball tournaments. While SXSW may once have been a relatively modest convention of sorts, it's now an international event, full of first-run flicks and bands all over town. And, of course, lots and lots and lots of tourists, particularly for the International Film Fest portion, which opens on Friday.
Ask anyone from Austin and they'll tell you that they don't even try to go out to eat during SXSW. It's that hard to get a table. Perhaps more troubling, it's just as hard to get a hotel room.
That, of course, is where visiting fans for the UIL tournament come in. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, prices for a room for the three-night span that would include all the games have been running in the $900 range. Even if one only goes for two days -- for their chosen team's semifinals and finals, if they're lucky enough to support a squad that plays on back-to-back days -- nearly all rooms are reportedly going for around $300 per night.
Those rooms aren't necessarily anywhere near the Erwin Center, either. The Morning News' Corbett Smith reported that rooms downtown, in the area adjacent to the University of Texas campus, were being billed at rates as high as $1,750 per night on Expedia.
Yes, $1,750 per night, just to be near an arena nicknamed "The Drum" to watch a high school basketball game.
Making matters worse, of course, is the last-minute nature of a prep team's run in the playoffs. No reasonable fans would book rooms far enough in advance to get a decent rate because they wouldn't know whether the team would qualify to play in the semifinals. That means that last-minute bookings are a virtual certainty, giving hotel managers a built-in fall-back if any of their rooms are left over after the SXSW rush is done with them.
Then again, it appears there aren't many of those rooms available at all, so maybe it's a moot point. The real question is whether the time may finally have come to consider moving the final stages of the tournament away from Austin, for economic reasons alone. It may not be the best or cheapest option for UIL itself, but it would be a heck of a show of goodwill toward the state's wildly devoted prep sports fans.
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