Make no mistake about it, Kansas State coach Deb Patterson was not in favor of splitting up the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
But that’s exactly what’s happening this season as the men get ready to settle into Sprint Center next week in Kansas City and the women open play Friday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The split of the tournaments marks the first time the women have been separated from the men in Big 12 history, something Patterson said isn’t the in best interest of the women’s game.
“It’s hard for me to toe the company line because I really don’t feel that it’s a positive,” said Patterson, whose Wildcats play Texas on Friday night in Dallas at 6. “I don’t know that it is what best serves our Kansas State fans, or any of the women’s fans in general. That’s great if it all blows up and it’s a great tournament in Dallas, but the people I’m worried about are the Kansas State fans, my players and our program and what best serves women’s basketball.”
The decision to move the women’s tournament to Dallas this season appears to be based on the Big 12 and Dallas wanting to audition for the chance to someday host the Women’s Final Four.
“The split allows the women’s championship to be the center of attention on its own dates,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Dallas Morning News this week. “This is a great opportunity for the city of Dallas and (American Airlines Center) in its hopes to host an NCAA women’s basketball Final Four.”
On the surface, the move also seems to cater to the Big 12 programs in the South, more specifically top-ranked Baylor and its fans, now with only a short distance to travel from Waco. It could be the last chance for Baylor fans to see superstar senior Brittney Griner, who will be trying to win the Bears their third straight Big 12 tournament title.
Another argument for the move to Dallas is to get away from the dated Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City — just a few short blocks from the state-of-the-art Sprint Center where the men play.
“We got a feeling that we were stepchildren up there,” Big 12 senior associate commissioner Dru Hancock told The Morning News.
Patterson isn’t buying it, though.
“There’s a big block of people, and coaches, who have not liked Kansas City from the get-go,” she said. “Some of the people who were arguing their point have tried to say we were in a low-rent facility when we competed in Kansas City.
“I think that’s taking a diversionary tactic. I think the bigger issue is how we are serving our fans, our players and their families… Personally, I had no issues whatsoever with the arena we competed in at Kansas City. I don’t think any fans said, ‘I’m not going to the women’s game because I don’t like (Municipal).”
While the women’s game has grown exponentially in recent years, it’s still far behind the men’s game in popularity. In terms of parity alone, the women’s game is still lagging way behind the men, evident by the small handful of realistic contenders, and then everybody else. Patterson views the separation of the tournaments as a step backwards.
“Don’t mess with success, especially in women’s athletics,” she said. “I think we did that with the women’s NCAA tournament and seeding and where we were going to host games and where we were not.
“I know that what we have had has been good for our student-athlete experience and good for our fan experience. That’s what matters. A lot of people put their personal agendas first…”
The first major change to tournament format was the separation of the Big 12 media days — the men in Kansas City and women in Dallas — this past November, a move that backfired when it came to generating media coverage. In the past, the media day functions would be a two-day event in Kansas City, allowing media outlets that primarily cover the men’s programs a chance to give some attention to the women as well.
This year, however — outside of Baylor — there was very little interest, if at all, in other programs that made the trip to Dallas because the majority of team’s local media outlets opted to skip the event and focus on the men’s media day.
“Who is coming? Who came to media day?” Patterson asked. “One of the greatest strengths we’ve had in women’s basketball is the opportunity to piggy back off of the men’s game, off our men’s fans and media can only be one place at one time, media that can only put X amount of dollars to traveling…
“I really take exception to the decision we’ve made.”