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Archive for Saturday, February 24, 1996

SATURDAY COLUMN

February 24, 1996

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As the final Big Eight Conference post-season basketball tournament draws near, there is increasing concern among sports-minded Kansas Citians that the highly popular tournament may be moved from Kansas City after 1997. The Big Eight has a contract to play the game in Kemper Arena through 1997, but after that it is anyone's guess where the Big 12 tournament will be played.

The long-standing event is a sports highlight in Kansas City. Before the post-season tournament, Kansas City hosted an equally popular holiday preseason tournament.

The current Big Eight show is one of Kansas City's best sports events, and tickets are in high demand. It's a sellout every year. The only trouble is that there are not sufficient tickets for the various Big Eight conference schools, and with four more schools being added to the conference roster next year, there will be even fewer tickets available for each of the 12 schools.

All of a sudden, Kansas City officials have awakened to the fact that, because of the limited seating capacity of Kemper Arena, there is a good chance they will lose the tournament, along with the economic benefits of the tournament and the national publicity that comes with a Kansas City dateline on all the news stories and newscasts emanating from the event.

It would be a blow to Kansas City if the tourney is moved -- an economic blow as well as a blow to the city's prestige.

Already, conference officials have elected to move the conference headquarters to Dallas. And, although the economic impact of this move is not that significant, it, too, was a blow to the prestige of Kansas City and served as a warning about Kansas City's future role as a center for major amateur sports events, particularly the events associated with the new Big 12 Conference.

Many fingers are being pointed these days in Kansas City, trying to place the blame for the city's current situation. The root of the problem is that Big Eight university representatives, along with those representing the four Southwest Conference schools that were invited to join the Big Eight, voted to name the commissioner of the floundering Southwest Conference as the new commissioner of the Big 12 conference. It would seem that the Big Eight schools should have been able to control the vote and back Kansas University's Bob Frederick as the new commissioner. But, for some highly selfish and jealous reasons, Big Eight representatives divided their votes and the Southwest Conference candidate was elected.

This matter settled, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to have the conference office moved to Dallas. The manner in which Dallas newspapers played the story about this move and the success of the four Texas schools in staging this coup offer ample evidence that the honeymoon between the former Big Eight and Southwest Conference schools is not likely to last long. The four Texas schools are going to play hardball, and the "family" feeling of the Big Eight is gone forever.

Chances would appear good that the tournament will be placed on a rotating schedule, with arenas in San Antonio, St. Louis and Oklahoma City likely to host the tournament in future years.

What this shows is that it is wrong for any city, whether it is Kansas City, Lawrence or any other city, to be complacent and take things for granted.

KU was guilty of such an attitude not too many years ago when it let Boys State move to Kansas State University. KU had successfully hosted both Boys State and Girls State for many years, but a housing conflict one year moved Boys State to KSU and KU officials did little to try to get the program back to Mount Oread.

Boys State and Girls State attract outstanding Kansas high school seniors-to-be and offer an ideal opportunity for the host university to encourage these students to enroll at that university after they graduate.

KU officials thought they had Boys State and Girls State in the bag. They had done a good job of hosting these events, but because of a careless or complacent attitude, they lost Boys State and can't get it back. It now is a fixture at Kansas State University.

Kansas City officials probably thought they had the Big Eight offices locked up, and they also probably never thought they would lose the basketball tournament. When they woke up to the situation, it was almost too late.

Kansas City officials should not forget that Missouri University officials voted in favor of the Southwest Conference commissioner rather than voting for KU's Bob Frederick to become the new Big 12 commissioner. Frederick most likely would have kept the conference offices in Kansas City, as well as doing what he could to keep the basketball tournament in KC. MU officials turned their backs on Kansas City because of their efforts to "get even" with KU.

Kansas City is not going to spend more than $100 million on a new basketball arena. The $20 million or so officials are talking about to enlarge Kemper is nothing more than a facelift, which will result in fewer seats for each of the 12 schools than now are allocated to each Big Eight school.

No amount of finger-pointing or discussion about the lack of leadership in Kansas City can make up for the complacent attitude of too many so-called leaders in Kansas City and the damage done by the vote of MU officials in the selection of a commissioner for the new Big 12 Conference.

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