ST. LOUIS — The courtside seating charts for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, placed on the walls surrounding the cramped media area in the tunnels of the Scottrade Center, tell the story best.
Sports Illustrated, TNT, USA Today, The New York Times all have spots.
What, pray tell, could be drawing them to this tournament that many times produces the league’s lone NCAA Tournament bid?
“We’re not under any delusions,” MVC associate commissioner Jack Watkins said. “Wichita State has drawn an influx of the national types that we haven’t seen here before. To quote Gregg (Marshall), WSU is here to ‘check that box.’ ”
Undefeated, No. 2 Wichita State’s pursuit of a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament has created the type of buzz in St. Louis surrounding NCAA Tournament regionals and BCS conference tournaments.
The Shockers haven’t won the MVC Tournament since 1987, when it was on Tulsa’s home court, and haven’t won in St. Louis since the tournament moved here in 1991. The relationship between the MVC and St. Louis is the second-longest for a conference tournament in the nation — behind the Big East and Madison Square Garden.
“We think there’s probably 15-20 more national-type guys that will attend this year for the first time in awhile,” MVC associate commissioner Mike Kern said. “We’re excited to have a showcase for our event and Wichita State is the driving force behind that. And when the national guys get here, they’ll see we’ve got a lot of other, really good teams.”
The people who run the MVC are used to such demands. They were in charge of hosting last year’s second and third-round games at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and will do the same in two weeks when they host the second and third round back at the Scottrade Center.
The Shockers, a likely No. 1 seed, could be headed right back to St. Louis.
“Mike Kern has handled media for two women’s Final Fours and the men’s Final Four in 2005,” Watkins said. “So we’ve got people who are used to the big events and handle those situations really well. We’ve tried to do a lot of the same setup for (the MVC Tournament) as we’ll have for the NCAA in two weeks, when WSU could be assigned here.”
The biggest issue facing the MVC with the extra media for the MVC Tournament has been space. They’ve adopted the NCAA Tournament’s “fan enhancement” model and sold a portion of the courtside seating, reserved in the past for media, to fans.
The Scottrade Center, also home to the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, has overflow seating in an upper-level press box used for Blues games that seats up to 150.
“We’re not going to sacrifice the people that have covered us from the start, our play-by-play guys or our beat writers,” Watkins said.
“We know the people that have covered the teams the whole way,” Kern said. “We’ll have some people that might be like ‘Eh’ when it comes to their seats, but we feel like we’ve got the people that need to see the game up close and personal where they need to be.”