Kansas City: Basketball mecca?


Traditionally, the Big 12 is not a basketball conference. And, for all intents and purposes, the majority of schools in the current Big 12 -- Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- have always been more a bit like the casual college sports fan in general: Cool with basketball, but much, much more interested in the pigskin.

The Kansas City Star, metropolitan hub of both Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri (and, in many ways, the Big 12 at large) argues that attitude might be changing. From Sam Mellinger's commentary:

Put it all together and Kansas City turns into a microcosm of a bigger conference trend in which basketball is about to become more interesting and important, starting this week and continuing next year when a Big 12 without dead weight from Colorado and Nebraska gets even better in hoops.

[...] This is the changing tide around here, both locally and throughout the region, pushing football back and basketball forward. There’s a group forming — full disclosure, I sat in on one of the meetings — trying to brand Kansas City as the college basketball capital of America, and we’ll earn that title into the future.

Last summer’s conference shuffling drove home the point of how little college basketball means in the big picture compared with football, so it’s a bit unfortunate, but, well, at this point we might as well go with it.

Maybe the rest of the country doesn’t pay much attention to college basketball until the NFL playoffs are over, but dammit, we do.

Having never spent much time in Kansas City's downtown before Big 12 media day this year (my grandfather lives in Kansas, but childhood trips through Kansas City were always of the "stay on the highway and avoid traffic because we've already been in the car for 10 hours" variety) I came away thinking one thing: Man, this would be a great city for the Final Four.

Kansas City's downtown is filled with hotels within walking distance of the city's booming entertainment districts -- especially the Power and Light District, a brand-new collection of bars, restaurants, clubs and all-around good atmosphere. Power and Light is right next to the Sprint Center, KC's brand-new arena, a beautiful building begging for an NBA team.

The only problem with the Final Four idea? The Sprint Center isn't nearly big enough. At this point, holding a Final Four in anything less than a 70,000-seat indoor stadium (like Lucas Oil in 2009-10, or Reliant Stadium this season) is not really an option. Unless Kansas City can manage to put a roof on Arrowhead, the Final Four is probably not headed to the western plains anytime soon. (It is fun to imagine Arrowhead with a roof, though.) And without a Final Four on the docket, it's hard to call yourself the college basketball capital of the country. Sorry, mysterious public relations committee. No dice.

But the rest of the story is true: The Big 12 is, at least in the short term, about to become a much better top-to-bottom basketball conference than it is a football one. Most Big 12 fans will always hold football first, but there's no reason the conference, and Kansas City by extension, can't feel the hoops love. KC's a great town, and it's surrounded by great hoops. What more do you need?