KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The home of the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament for most of its existence has been Municipal Auditorium, a Streamline Moderne and Art Deco archetype built during the Depression in downtown Kansas City.
It has history. Some charm. An entirely unique feel.
That feel also was a bit second-rate compared with the men’s Big 12 tourney, which has been played down the street at T-Mobile Center.
It has all the trappings of a modern arena: luxury suites, spacious locker rooms, video boards and almost three times as many seats at Municipal Auditorium, which could fit just over 7,000 fans for each game.
That all changes beginning this season.
Both tournaments, which had run concurrently so traveling fans could see both of their teams on the same trip, will be played at T-Mobile Center. The women’s event will run March 7-12 and the men March 12-16.
“They deserve to be in a world-class venue,” said Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, who has made it a point to help promote women’s basketball. “I’m excited that this year we’ll have both the men’s and women’s tournaments at T-Mobile Center.”
It won’t be the first time the Big 12 women’s tourney will be played in an NBA- or NHL-level building.
The tournament was held twice at Reunion Arena and twice at American Airlines Center, the past two homes of the Dallas Mavericks, and for six years in Oklahoma City with four editions at Paycom Center, the home of the Thunder.
Just like T-Mobile Center, those buildings seat more than 18,000 for basketball, and that meant larger crowds those years, due in part to home crowds that cheered on Oklahoma and Baylor when they were national title contenders.
But the tradeoff of selling more tickets is the risk of vast sections of empty seats for some of the games, which would create some poor optics and was rarely a problem in the more intimate Municipal Auditorium.
“I think it’s great that women’s basketball is coming to the forefront,” said Texas Tech coach Krista Gerlich, who helped lead the Lady Raiders to a national title as a player, and who is entering her fourth season leading the program. “I think our commissioner has done a fantastic job of showcasing that.”
Last year, the Big 12 approved a two-year extension to keep Kansas City, Missouri, the host of the men’s and women’s tourneys through the 2027 editions.
The way the city rallies around the event each March, coupled with the arena setup next door to the Power and Light District of bars and restaurants, made it the clear choice going forward.
“Kansas City has been a great home for the Big 12 basketball championships,” Yormark said at the start of Big 12 media days Tuesday.
“Because of that, we are currently in discussions on an early extension to keep the Big 12 championships right here in Kansas City at the T-Mobile Center through 2031.”
None of the four programs joining the Big 12 this season had a winning record a year ago, so there could be some significant growing pains for BYU from the West Coast and Cincinnati, UCF and Houston from the American Athletic conferences.
Especially given that three of them have relatively new coaches
Merriweather is returning to Cincinnati, her alma mater, after two successful seasons at Memphis, while BYU’s Amber Whiting and UCF’s Sytia Messer are entering their second seasons. Ronald Hughey is beginning his 10th at Houston.
“We have a whole other level of enthusiasm,” Bearcats guard Mya Jackson said. “We’re extremely grateful where we came from, and to have this opportunity to be here, and we’re going to show up and compete and work hard every day.”
Kansas hopes to build off a WNIT title last season behind a trio of super-seniors who could have transferred or turned pro but chose instead to return to Lawrence for a shot at getting the Jayhawks back to the NCAA Tournament.
Taiyanna Jackson leads the bunch after averaging 15.2 points and 12.7 rebounds last season, becoming the first Kansas player since 1981-82 to average a double-double. Zakiyah Franklin had a team-leading 15.7 points per game last season, and has already started 115 games in her career. Holly Kersgieter is poised to break into the top 10 on the school’s career scoring list.
“Two seasons ago we made it to the (NCAA) Tournament and so people saw last year as a step backwards,” Kersgieter said, “but the way we addressed the NIT was almost a blessing in disguise. The main takeaway was honestly we learned to have fun again. We had the biggest crowds of the season and I don’t think that was a coincidence in those (WNIT) games.
“We had a taste of the good, a taste of the bad, and we know that it takes to take a step forward after that run.”