Mark Hollis hatches plan for greatest in-season college hoops event ever

Jeff Eisenberg

If Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis gets his wish, Portland could host the strongest in-season college basketball event in history in Nov. 2017.

Hollis told Thursday he has received commitments from 16 college basketball titans to participate in a two-tournament event in Portland in honor of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's 80th birthday.

Among the Nike-sponsored headliners who are on board with the event so far include Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and of course Michigan State. The other programs that have pledged to participate are Florida, Ohio State, Connecticut, Georgetown, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford, Oregon, Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga and Portland.

The reason Hollis chose Nov. 2017 for the event is because many of the elite programs participating have committed to other preseason tournaments through 2016. One 16-team mega-tournament would probably be more appealing than two parallel eight-team events, but that would be difficult to pull off since multiple teams from one conference cannot participate in the same event.

There are many things that could cause some of the participants to renege over the next five years, from leadership changes, to conference realignment, to a switch in sports-apparel sponsors. Nonetheless, with Hollis' track record for pulling off big events, don't bet against him.

Hollis hatched the idea for a basketball game on an aircraft carrier last year, spearheaded the plan to hold a Michigan-Michigan State hockey match at Spartan Stadium in 2001 and set up a basketball game at cavernous Ford Field two years later. He has even broached the idea of a basketball game between Michigan State and USC at Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, Greece, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

In some ways, the event to honor Knight could be the biggest attention grabber of all simply because of the star power.

Even without Adidas-sponsored Kansas and UCLA or UnderArmour-sponsorsed Maryland, no other preseason event would come close to the caliber of field Hollis envisions assembling. That could be the rare blockbuster college hoops event big enough to draw attention away from football for a few days in November.