The Big 12 basketball tournament should return to rotating venues as it did in the early days of the conference because annually holding the event in Kansas City is giving some teams a pseudo home court advantage every year.
Tonight, Kansas and Iowa State will meet in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. It will certainly be a packed house in the Sprint Center as two teams with huge fanbases in the midwest square off. And that leads one to wonder if it is fair for the Big 12 to hold its championship tournament in Kanas City every year.
Every March, the Sprint Center is filled by throngs of fans from primarily three schools, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas. That is because fans from Ames must travel just 230 miles to get to K.C., while fans from Kansas State have to travel only 121 miles and Jayhawk fans have to somehow find the courage to make a 41-mile trek. (Imagine the benefit to the Red Raiders if the even were to be played in a city as close to Lubbock as Plainview.)
What’s more, there are thousands of alumni of those three former Big 12 North schools living in the K.C. area making any game involving the Cyclones, Wildcats or Jayhawks a veritable road contest for the other seven schools in the conference.
Therefore, it is no wonder that in the ten years since the Big 12 Tournament has called Kansas City its permanent home, one of those three schools has been in the title game nine times. And the one year that is the exception (2012) saw former Big 12 member Missouri win the title. Columbia, by the way, is just 151 miles east of Kansas City.
In all, teams within 300 miles of Kansas City have appeared in the title game 14 times. And in 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2019, the title game has featured two teams from the old Big 12 North.
Meanwhile, the four teams from Texas are an average of 643.2 miles away from K.C. meaning only the most hard-core of fans from those schools are able to attend the Big 12 Tournament. And not surprisingly, Texas schools have been in the title game just three times in the last ten years and there has never been a matchup of two Texas teams in the game that decides who receives and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Certainly, fans of the northern schools will point out that their teams have been more highly seeded on average and that is somewhat true. Kansas has been the top seed in each of the last nine years prior to 2019 and KSU has only reached the title game when seeded No. 2 in the league.
But that begs the question, why have these northern schools been upset so less frequently than the Texas schools? Because they have the benefit of playing in front of thousands of their fans in what amounts to virtual home games.
There is no question that if the event had been held in Dallas over the last ten years, Texas schools would have much better and likely would have won the event a handful of times. Likewise, one could assume that the two Oklahoma schools, which have not even appeared in the title game in the last decade, would have been bigger factors in the Big 12 Tournament had the event been held in Oklahoma City.
So why has the event been moved to K.C. on a permanent basis? The answer lies in petty jealously and complaining for the northern schools.
When the conference decided to play its football championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on an annual basis beginning in 2009, the teams in the former Big 12 North cried foul and demanded that the basketball tournament be held permanently in a northern city. Thus, Kansas City was the only logical choice.
But there is a flaw in that reasoning. The football championship game only involves two teams each year whereas the basketball tournament features every team in the league. As a Texas Tech fan, I have never had a desire to attend the Big 12 football title game though many years, I could have easily made the trip to Arlington. That’s because Tech has never appeared in the game. In fact, only three current members of the conference (OU, Texas and TCU) have played in the title game since it moved to Arlington.
And where was the benefit to the southern schools when the Big 12 did not have a football title game from 2011-2016? During those seasons, it would have made sense to move the basketball tournament around to cities such as Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio or even Houston had the Big 12 not signed an agreement with the Sprint Center in 2015 to keep the event in K.C. through 2020. And unfortunately last year, that agreement was extended through 2024.
That seems odd considering the fact that numerous other venues in Big 12 cities could host the event. The same can’t be said of the football title game. The only neutral-site venues outside of Arlington large enough for that game are Arrowhead Stadium in K.C., NRG Stadium in Houston and the Alamo Dome in San Antonio.
That means that the only way the football title game could take place in a northern location would be if it were played outdoors in December when the weather in K.C. is often less than ideal. That’s why the game is best suited to stay at AT&T Stadium.
But once the 2024 event is complete, the Big 12 should move the basketball tournament to other cities within its geographic footprint. Doing so would not only allow more fans of the southern schools to attend the event, it would make the northern schools actually have to face a hostile crowd once in a while like the other seven schools in the league have to do on an annual basis.