With Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC all but official, the fate of the eight remaining Big 12 schools is uncertain.
So is the future of the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
The men’s and women’s championships are set for Kansas City through 2025. But there could be voids on future March calendars if the remaining schools don’t stay together should UT and OU depart.
As competitive as Texas and Oklahoma are in basketball — the Longhorns won their first Big 12 men’s championship last year — the biggest drivers of the tournaments, in terms of both dollars and interest, are fans from Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
But will those schools stay together in a redrawn Big 12? Or will they look at other conference options, perhaps spelling the end of the conference altogether?
Kansas City would love to see the Big 12 continue to exist in some fashion.
“We’re hopeful that the Big 12 stays intact and the tournaments continue here,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas CIty Sports Commission.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted that the city would continue to seek basketball events.
“We’ve had a major conference basketball tournament in our city for almost every year of my life. We’ll compete to make sure it keeps happening,” Lucas tweeted Friday.
Kansas City has been the site of the men’s tournament in 20 of the Big 12’s 25 years of existence, including the last 12. The 2020 tournament brought little revenue to the city: it was shut down after one night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The women’s event returned to Kansas City two years ago, at Municipal Auditorium.
The tournaments this March were played, but they proceeded without fans in attendance. This next season’s tournaments are set for March 2022.
In non-pandemic years, the men’s tournament plays to sellout crowds at T-Mobile Center and generates some $15 million for the local economy. Privately, league officials have discussed moving the women’s tournament to the T-Mobile Center, too.
Losing those tournaments altogether “would impact so many businesses and employees,” Nelson said.
The Big 12’s CEOs and athletic directors were part of a teleconference with commissioner Bob Bowlsby to discuss the league’s future. Officials from Texas and Oklahoma weren’t part of the conversation.
The Big 12 issued this statement after the meeting: “Oklahoma and Texas are founding members of the Big 12 and we value their traditions and history of success.
“The eight members strongly desire to retain the current composition, which has proven it can compete at the highest levels. There is a recognition that institutions may act in their own self-interest, however there is an expectation that members adhere to Conference bylaws and the enforcement of Grant of Rights agreements.
“This is a time of dramatic change within intercollegiate athletics that presents both opportunities and challenges, and the Big 12 Conference looks forward to continuing to play a major role in its evolution.”
Kansas City has several major events scheduled over the next few years, including the 2023 NFL Draft, NCAA basketball regionals and the NCAA wrestling and volleyball championships. All will fill downtown hotels and restaurants.
But the Big 12 tournaments happen annually, and along with the MIAA and NAIA tournaments they create a festive basketball atmosphere in Kansas City every March.
The Big 12 tournaments are the biggest of those of events and would be sorely missed.
“When you think about the Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State fans taking over downtown ....” Nelson said. “I can’t imagine not seeing that.”