KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — History apparently trumped geography when it came to deciding the future hosts of the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament.
Incoming commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced a two-year extension Friday that will keep the event at the Sprint Center in Kansas City through at least 2016. The deal includes the right of first refusal for the tournament’s traditional dates beyond the current contract.
That means the Big 12 could head off moves by other league, such as the Southeastern and Missouri Valley conferences, to play future tournaments in Kansas City.
“The Sprint Center is a great venue, the history of the tournament and the history of the league in this area is rich, and we’re very excited about extending the relationship with Kansas City,” said Bowlsby, who will officially take over as commissioner later this month.
“This has been a tumultuous time over the last 24 months for our conference,” he said, “but I think the announcement of this agreement, the settlement of many of the issues that caused it to be tumultuous, has caused us to have a very bright outlook.”
The Big 12 tournament was scheduled to be played at the Sprint Center through 2014, but there were questions about its future with Missouri and Texas A&M leaving for the SEC next month. Some believed that the tournament would move to Dallas or Oklahoma City, two cities that have hosted it in the past, to avoid playing in a state without a current conference member.
“Just remember, the first part of the city’s name is Kansas,” said acting commissioner Chuck Neinas, who has presided over the league following Dan Beebe’s departure last year.
Indeed, Kansas City has become a battleground for Missouri and current members of the Big 12, particularly Kansas and Kansas State. All of them claim robust alumni support in the metropolitan area, and all have expressed interest in playing non-league games at the Sprint Center.
“I’m claiming that Kansas City is a Big 12 city. It’s been a great place for our tournament,” Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said. “For us, it’s an ideal location.”
Kansas State president Kirk Schulz offered a similar assessment, calling the Sprint Center and the nearby College Basketball Experience a “great venue for college basketball.”
The Big 12 tournament has been played in Kansas City 11 times since the league’s inception, including the first seven editions at Kemper Arena. The tournament returned to the city in 2008 at the Sprint Center, and has enjoyed massive crowds the past three years.
The top four attendance averages since the championship began in 1997 have been generated in Kansas City, along with seven of the top eight. The average attendance for the five sessions this past year was 18,979, second only to the record 19,100 that attended in 2000.
“This means a lot to our city, our sports fans and our local businesses,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission.
While there have been rumblings that other conferences might be interested in playing its tournament in Kansas City, Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo said city officials have not had conversations with any other leagues.
“We’re very excited that the Big 12 is our partner,” she said.
The Big 12 appears to be just as pleased with the partnership.
“Kansas City has been a great host since the conference played the first holiday tournament there in 1946, and its first postseason basketball event in 1977,” Neinas said, referring to the days of the old Big Eight. “Everything is done first-class and it will be great to see the Big 12 hold its men’s basketball championship there for the next four years.”