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Palestra photos for Hinkle Fieldhouse comparison column. Credit: Mike Wisniewski , Mike Wisniewski

The American Athletic Conference isn’t headed to the Palestra just yet.

The new conference, a successor to the old all-sports Big East Conference, will hold its first men’s basketball tournament at FedExForum in Memphis, March 12-15. The Palestra had also been considered to host the inaugural tournament along with arenas in Hartford, Tampa, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Conference representatives toured the Palestra on April 30 and Aresco was reportedly drawn to the Palestra’s historical significance as the “Cathedral of College Basketball” as well as the gym’s smaller seating (8,700 seats), which would encourage greater demand for tickets for the fledgling league.

But FedExForum had been the clear favorite to host the first American Athletic Conference men’s hoops tourney for weeks, home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and the American’s own Tigers.

“My sense all along is that it would probably go to Memphis,” Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky told The Daily Pennsylvanian last month. “They have a new arena, they’ll probably wanna keep those guys happy. The one thing they don’t want to have happen is more schools start defecting.”

But even though the first men’s hoops tourney is played in Memphis, the Palestra will remain a potential site for future tourneys, since both the women’s and men’s tournaments are both expected to move on a rotating basis.

“We feel it’s too early to do anything long-term,” Aresco told last month. “For instance, if we go to the Palestra, we’ll have to see if that really works. Or we might say, ‘Okay, now we’ve got an entire year to see what we really want to do.’ At that point we might get a bid that we really can’t refuse. Attendance is really important and having a dynamic presence is really important. We don’t want to go somewhere, it not work, and then we’re stuck.”

“A lot of guys in the [American Athletic] conference know the Palestra as an exciting place,” Bilsky said. “Some of them even were working in the Big East Conference when the Atlantic 10 played its tournament here, which was tremendously successful from a fan’s standpoint.”

Indeed, the Palestra hosted the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament from 1989 through 1995, when the tourney was played there for the last time. Former A-10 school Temple will be one of 10 AAC universities for 2013-14.

The Palestra has also hosted more NCAA games than any other venue in the nation, although none since 1984. The first NCAA Tournament game was played there in 1939.

“[The American] made their visit here and they loved it,” Bilsky said. “Maybe it happens this year, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe if it doesn’t this year it’ll happen in the future.”

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