KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Billboards around town this weekend declared Kansas City “Big 12 Country.”
So did the crowds downtown for the Big 12 Tournament.
Just like always, Kansas blue and Iowa State red, Missouri gold and Kansas State purple, painted the Sprint Center, the Power & Light District and the hotels that fill up for hoops.
“And good grief, Baylor fans,” Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said Saturday. “I can't get over how much yellow and green I've seen the last couple of days.”
But while Kansas City remains a Big 12 town, Missouri does not remain a Big 12 state. Not after Saturday, when the University of Missouri bid farewell to Big 12 basketball, beating Baylor 90-75 in the title game. Now Mizzou is off to the Southeastern Conference.
That doesn't mean the Big 12 Tournament is off to a state that boasts a Big 12 school. There seems to be little momentum for the conference to follow through on its bluff of last autumn. When Mizzou flirted with the SEC, Big 12 rumblings suggested the tournament could leave Kansas City, with no Missouri school represented.
Instead, this old city that for a century has been Ground Zero of the KU-Mizzou Border War appears more entrenched than ever at hosting the tournament.
“I think that's such a misleading deal,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the Missouri aspect of Kansas City. “There's parts of Cincinnati that's in Kentucky.
“To me, the fact that the arena (Sprint Center) is located across the river or whatever, is irrelevant. It's in the state of Missouri, but it's still Kansas City.
“Kansas City is split. Kansas City is more of a K-State, KU town than it is a Missouri town.”
The tournament is contracted with Kansas City through 2014. And Oklahoma City, at least, will try to secure the event it hosted in 2007 and 2009.
Coaches and athletic directors from the Oklahoma and Texas schools obviously support a move back south.
“I think politics are on our side, for once,” said Tim Brassfield, executive director of Oklahoma City's All Sports Association.
The tournament never really caught hold in three tries in Dallas, and while the 2007 tournament in OKC was a resounding attendance success, 2009 was not.
And even Brassfield doesn't sound optimistic. For one thing, “they (Kansas City) do such a great job with it.” And for another, one of the negatives about KC is gone.
Starting next season, the Big 12 will try two years of splitting the women's tournament from the men. It will be played over the weekend previous to the men's weekend and be played in a different city (Dallas in 2013, OKC in 2014).
The women's tournament always has been strength of Oklahoma City's bid. The women's tournament always has drawn poorly in Kansas City.
Nelson said KC would continue to bid for the women's tournament, but truth is, the women were an albatross that Kansas City endured.
The men's tournament, a KC staple since the old Big Six Holiday Tournament began in 1947, is the desired jewel. Even without Mizzou.
“Obviously, Kansas City has done such a great job historically with this tournament,” Self said. “I can't see it taking a step backwards at all from an interest standpoint, or an attendance standpoint.”
Sorry, but that won't fly. If this tournament is in Dallas or Oklahoma City, Missouri's absence is no big deal. In Kansas City, Missouri leaves a big void.
“We're very sad to see them go,” Nelson said. “I feel like we will miss Missouri. We'll miss those fans. But we know the strength of Kansas fans and K-State fans and Iowa State fans.
“The Big 12 has assured us they want to be here. They know we know how to host men's basketball and host it well. I think that's been all put to rest.”
The Big 12 isn't crazy about playing its conference tournament in Missouri. But it is crazy about playing in Kansas City. Expect the Big 12 Tournament to stay in Border Town.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.