Archive for Saturday, March 11, 1995

SATURDAY COLUMN

March 11, 1995

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This weekend could be one of the last times the highly popular Big Eight post-season basketball tournament is held in Kansas City.

With the upcoming merger of four former Southwest conference schools into the Big Eight, there is talk of moving the tournament, as well as the Big Eight Conference headquarters, out of Kansas City.

The four Texas schools and their various spokespeople, plus the media in Texas, seem to have seized the initiative from the Big Eight schools and Kansas City leaders in their efforts to determine the destiny of the new conference.

It would seem representatives of the eight Big Eight schools would have the votes to set the course of action, if Big Eight leaders were to vote as a block against the four former Southwest Conference schools. And it would be logical to expect Kansas City leaders to launch an aggressive and effective campaign to keep the conference offices and the new Big 12 Conference post-season basketball showcase in Kansas City. It would be a feather in Kansas City's cap to be the home city for both the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA.

So far, however, there doesn't appear to be much cohesion among Big Eight university representatives, and Kansas City leaders have been silent on promoting their city as the home city for the new conference.

The Big Eight basketball tournament is one of the most popular sports events in this part of the country. In fact, tickets to the three-day event are among the most difficult to obtain of any sporting event in the country.

Prior to the current post-season tournament, there was a preseason conference basketball tournament, held in K.C.'s Municipal Auditorium during the Christmas holidays, and this, too, was a bell-ringer in every respect.

Basketball fans in this part of the country have demonstrated far greater support for their conference basketball tournament than those in the Dallas and Southwest Conference area have for their basketball programs.

One problem with Kemper Arena in Kansas City is its size. It isn't large enough to accommodate the number of people who would like to attend the post-season tournament. Ticket allocations to the conference schools will be reduced even more when four more universities are added to the conference. Corporate sponsors have carved out a large percentage of Kemper seats, with each school given a small allocation of the remaining seats.

The fact of the matter is that the only reason for the tournament is to make more money for the conference. After a grueling conference race, there really isn't any need for another physically draining contest among the conference schools. Also the tournament denies those teams earning a spot in the NCAA tournament time to rest and prepare for the race for the national title. Again, money is the dominant force calling the shots in the conference post-season tournament.

Within the next several weeks, conference representatives will decide whom they want to serve as commissioner of the new conference. According to various reports, the two favorite candidates are KU Athletic Director Bob Frederick and Southwest Conference Commissioner Steve Hatchell. There are two other candidates, but many think they serve merely as window dressing with the real contest being between Frederick and Hatchell.

If this is the case, just as in the question of where the conference office should be located and where any post-season tournament should be held, it would seem the eight representatives of the Big Eight should be able to outvote the four former Southwest Conference representatives.

However, SWC boosters and Hatchell have been waging a tough, effective campaign. Big Eight representatives have been relatively silent and have not displayed any unanimity or conference loyalty on these matters.

Hatchell probably is a well-qualified individual to take on the commissioner's role, but something went wrong within the Southwest Conference under Hatchell's watch, with the formerly strong and proud conference falling apart. The four schools -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor -- asked to be taken in by the Big Eight. Perhaps Hatchell was powerless to hold the conference together, but presiding over a conference disintegration wouldn't seem to be a powerful recommendation on a job application for another athletic conference commissioner post.

By the way, Hatchell has said that if he should be selected for the new conference post, he would do everything in his power to move the conference office, and most likely the basketball tournament, out of Kansas City.

Residents in the Lawrence and Kansas City area have been spoiled by the benefits of being in close proximity to the conference office and the various Big Eight athletic contests. The addition of the Texas schools is going to move many major athletic events much further away.

Frederick would seem to have many pluses for the commissioner's post. He has an excellent national reputation. He has the respect of university presidents throughout the country. He has overseen a clean, highly successful athletic program. He has all the academic qualifications. And he conducts himself in a manner that reflects credit on the university and the conference.

The selection of Frederick for the Big 12 post would be a good move for the conference as a whole, but it would represent a major loss for KU.

Area basketball fans should treasure and appreciate the Big Eight basketball tournament while they can because chances are good it will be moved to another city and a larger arena shortly after the formalities of selecting a new commissioner and deciding where the conference offices will be located. Because of contractual obligations, there may be a lag of several years before the tournament is moved out of K.C., but in the end, it probably will be moved or placed on some kind of a multicity rotation.

The Big Eight Conference seemed to be getting along just fine without the four Southwest Conference schools, but again, money called the shots. Money is needed by the schools to carry out the federal demands for universities to provide equal opportunities for women in sports. This costs money, particularly when revenues from women's sports do not cover the expenses of these programs. Schools must raise funds to provide scholarships and facilities for the federally mandated women's sports and women's scholarships that must be equal to what is offered for male athletes.

Like it or not, this is a fact of present-day intercollegiate sports, but it should not cloud the current battle by the four Texas universities to seize control of the Big Eight conference. So far, unfortunately, they seem to be doing a good job.

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