Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas grew up watching the Big Eight basketball tournaments in Kemper Arena and postseason basketball tournaments won’t be leaving Kansas City if he has anything to say about it.
The future of the Big 12 and consequently the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments landed on rocky ground following the announcement Monday morning that Texas and Oklahoma plan to leave the conference.
The departure of UT and OU — which has no timetable yet — leaves the viability of the conference in question, now with only eight teams. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the remaining eight members of the conference will work together to “strategically position the Big 12 Conference for continued success.”
“Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently,” Bowlsby said.
The Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball championships are guaranteed to be played in Kansas City through 2025, if the league still exists by then, that is. Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State garner the most interest and money in the men’s basketball tournament, which historically brings in $15 million in economic activity annually, playing in front of sellout crowds at the T-Mobile Center.
Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas CIty Sports Commission, said losing those tournaments altogether “would impact so many businesses and employees.”
“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.”
Lucas echoed Bowlsby’s disappointment in OU and UT leaving the Big 12. He said they’re willing to do “everything we can” to keep postseason basketball tournaments in Kansas City, and wants to expand the number of conference tournaments hosted in Kansas City, which could include volleyball or wrestling.
“I think that Kansas City has shown why it should be the host of the Big 12 tournament — the question is: what is the Big 12 Tournament in the future?” Lucas said. “It’s certainly not better today than it was two weeks ago. But I do think that, look, we’ve been an attractive place to have a college basketball tournament, we will continue to be an attractive place to have a basketball tournament.”
Regardless of what happens in the next few years with the Big 12 and if teams leave, Lucas is willing to bid to host conference tournaments wherever schools like Kansas, Kansas State or Missouri are.
“There is rich history here,” Lucas said. “We sell the seats well, we have a good relationship with our businesses and we will pitch that at every conference throughout the country … I hope this only expands the opportunities for us, given our central location and the relationships we’ve had with a number of different teams in college sports.”
While the Big 12 women’s tournament just returned to Kansas City two years ago, the men’s tournament has been hosted in the city the last 12 years and 20 times overall since the first Big 12 men’s basketball tournament in 1997.
Lucas’ focus is on securing a conference tournament bid, whichever one that may be, for 2026 and 2027, and said he will work with the Big 12 to ensure the conference has a space. But he is going to explore other options as well, to guarantee that “Kansas City continues to be a mecca of college basketball, as it has been in history.”
“We’re funding improvements there now,” Lucas said. “I expect us to continue to have college basketball tournaments in Kansas City for years to come.”