I attended the Great Alaska Shootout both years I lived outside of Anchorage. I saw a Ron Mercer-led Kentucky team win in 1996, and then in 1997 watched as Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter took North Carolina to the tournament title. It used to be one of the country's biggest holiday tournaments. Past tense. Now, the field has shrunk to just six teams (including host school Alaska-Anchorage) and it's no longer televised. Why? It's no longer an "ESPN tournament."
"I don't think it was the NCAA's intention at the time, but they anointed ESPN king of the [early-season tournament] world from one day to the next," says Steve Cobb, the athletic director at University of Alaska-Anchorage, which is the last school left that owns and operates a full-format early-season tournament, the 32-year-old Great Alaska Shootout. The Maui Invitational and the Shootout had long been the game's signature early-season events, but when ESPN didn't renew the Shootout's television deal after the 2007 tournament, it fell from prominence ... "ESPN didn't need me anymore," says Cobb. "All the barriers to them owning their own tournaments were lifted."
ESPN didn't need the Great Alaska Shootout because it was creating its own tournaments: The Old Spice Classic, the 76 Classic, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and the Charleston Classic are all owned and operated by the worldwide leader, with plans to launch two more later this season. And as a result, the smaller tournaments -- the ones with no TV deals -- are struggling. By Sports Illustrated's count, there are 35 holiday tournaments, and "only nine of them not owned by ESPN have their finals on national cable this year." The other 21 are left to "fight for the scraps."