The Oklahoman caught up with Big 12 Associate Commissioner John Underwood at the Big 12 basketball tournament in Kansas City. Here’s what Underwood had to say about the week:
Q: Does Thursday seem like an old-school day – old Big Eight days, with eight good teams and six rabid fan bases?
A: “Probably going to be one of the most exciting quarterfinals we’ve had in a long, long time. Sold out. Energetic fans that cheer for their teams and really, really will be competitive games. I think that’s the value of the double round. They’ve scouted. It’ll be good as we go forward. It’s amazing, as you talk to coaches, they all want to win their games, but at the end of the day, the NCAA (Tournament) being able to be rested, start traveling all over the country and hopefully advance.”
We’re several years into the new format of finishing on Saturday. How has that worked?
“It’s been interesting. Our coaches wanted that. ESPN would probably like us to finish on Sunday. lt has not put us at any competitive disadvantage. Even when we finished on Sunday, our teams did a good job in the first and second rounds. But for our two teams to be able to get home Saturday night, rest and then be selected … now, if you play on (Thursday), you’re traveling on Tuesday, you gotta take a day off, so it’s really worked well.”
This is the second year without Missouri. How has that adjustment gone?
“We’ve got 10 really quality teams. One of the things that’s been really fascinating for me, last year, I was concerned about the first day in attendance. We had 10,000 people last year. We had 11,000 here last night. There are a lot of people that come to the tournament that are basketball fans, maybe not just come for that particular game when their team’s not playing, but they want to be in the arena to watch basketball. I didn’t answer your question.”
How have you navigated the political problem of playing this tournament in a state that does not have a Big 12 school?
“That’s been something we’ve discussed. But it hasn’t been a major issue. Kansas City does a terrific job of hosting this tournament, they’ve got a great history, their local organizing committee does a terrific job. The Sprint Center, I tell you, it’s been interesting to talk to Tubby (Smith) and to Bob Huggins, who have come from different leagues, to get their perspective of our tournament and how it’s presented. The locker rooms. We’ve got ample locker rooms. Not a small locker room. Everybody is treated really, really good.”