Just 12 days ago, St. Louis’ Scottrade Center was described, accurately, as “Charles Koch Arena East.”
The 19,000-seat venue was overflowing with black-and-yellow-wearing, deliriously cheering Wichita State University fans who drowned out every other teams’ fan base – both in number and volume – as they joyously watched the Shockers clinch their first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title since 1987 and sew up an undefeated regular season.
By Sunday’s championship game, an estimated 8,200 WSU fans had made the trip to St. Louis.
But that was 12 days ago.
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The Shockers are back at the Scottrade Center for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, and their fans are competing for seats with two other even closer Kansas teams – KU and Kansas State – whose followers tend to be just as enthusiastic, live closer and like to travel. Kentucky fans also tend to turn out in number during NCAA Tournament time, and several of them were already in town to watch their team practice on Thursday afternoon.
Twelve days later, it seems, WSU’s Scottrade Center cheering section will be noticeably smaller.
Or will it?
“I hope I’m pleasantly surprised,” said Russell Wilkins, who is WSU’s assistant athletic director for ticket operations. “I really feel like it’s going to be a wait-and-see situation.”
Wilkins, who traveled to St. Louis with the team on Wednesday, said that he knew for sure that WSU’s allotment for the team’s first round – 550 tickets, of which 400 were reserved for donors – was long gone. Of the tickets sold by the NCAA, Wilkins said, 2,000 were purchased by people with Wichita addresses.
But that doesn’t account for the legions who may still be buying from other sources, and Wilkins said there’s no telling how many WSU fans will eventually fill the stands for Friday’s game.
As of Thursday evening, around 650 tickets to the Shockers’ opening-round game against Cal Poly were still listed on Stubhub.com, starting at around $61 for the nosebleed sections and going up to $1,050. Remaining tickets on the NCAA ticket exchange website started at $59.40 and went up to $202.50.
Motivated WSU fans who want tickets and are able to pay can still get them, Wilkins said, which raised his hope that large patches of black-and-yellow might interrupt all the blue-and-crimson and purple this weekend.
Among the fans who arrived at Scottrade on Thursday to watch an open Shocker practice session were Dave and Terry Glover, who said they got tickets online as soon as it was announced that WSU would play in St. Louis. They weren’t sure then when WSU would actually play, so they bought seats to all the sessions.
They’ve tried all week, unsuccessfully, to unload their tickets to the earlier Friday games, one of which features the Kansas Jayhawks. They finally decided to just keep the tickets and attend the earlier games. After all, the chance to see all three big Kansas teams at once is rare.
“There aren’t many opportunities to do that,” Dave Glover said. “And if all of them win one, that would be really neat.”
Evidence that Scottrade would be hogged by basketball fans from Kansas this weekend was apparent during Thursday’s practice sessions.
The Jayhawks practiced first, at 2:15 p.m., and the stands were filled with hundreds cheering and wearing crimson and blue. Several curious K-State and Wichita State fans were visible in that crowd, too.
By the time the Shockers’ practice started at 4:25 p.m., K-State purple was beginning to appear in larger splotches, too. The Wildcats started practice at 6:40 p.m.
Norine and Les Fry, who live in Wilmore – population 53, in Comanche County – were among the fans checking out tournament-eve activities at Scottrade on Thursday. He wore K-State purple; she wore Shocker yellow.
Their allegiance was split, they said, because they have children and grandchildren who’ve earned degrees from both universities.
Norine said she was already contemplating the possibility of a WSU-Kansas State match-up on Sunday, which will happen if both win their Friday games.
Either way, she said, this weekend should be a good one for basketball fans who live in Kansas.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s like old home week.”
Dyan Thonton and her husband, Dave, said they spent their entire spring break budget on tickets to the first round of the tournament. They brought their children, 15-year-old Drew and 13-year-old Olivia, and showed up early on Thursday to watch KU practice.
They knew they had to have tickets, they said, and bought them in mid-January, unwilling to gamble on missing the Shockers’ first games. When they learned that all the Kansas teams would be in one spot, the expensive tickets seemed even more worth it, Dyan Thornton said.
“It’s a great regional,” she said. “I’ll cheer for all the Kansas teams unless they play the Shockers.”