Bob Lutz: NCAA’s snub of Wichita stings

11/12/2012 5:05 PM

11/12/2012 8:13 PM

We put on our finest tux, clipped our overgrown eyebrows, shot a little sticky stuff on our hair and did our best to look like upstanding folks.

And still the NCAA snubbed us Monday when it announced sites for the 2014 and 2015 men’s college basketball tournament.

I thought for sure this was Wichita’s year. We have what still qualifies as a new arena, one that shines. We have a citizenry that supports basketball in all shapes and forms. And, as Stuart Smalley was fond of saying: “We’re good enough, we’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like us.’’

Well, maybe not.

Paranoia is setting in, at least for me.

The NCAA awarded second- and third-round games to 15 cities and to Spokane, Wash., on Monday. See, I’m so upset that I’m even lashing out at Spokane. Please, Spokanians, forgive me for I am not myself.

As a strong proponent for building an arena downtown instead of remodeling one out in the boonies, the NCAA basketball tournament was the apple of my eye. I thought for sure that Wichita would elbow its way into the rotation and that once the NCAA saw how well we gussied up that we would forever be in its good graces.

Instead, we can’t seem to get a foot in the door. This is twice now that a bid by Wichita State and other city and county entities to host has been turned down. And you can’t just call somebody with the NCAA and have them explain to you what the issues are.

Theirs is a theocracy and we are its minions. The Great and Powerful NCAA has spoken and now we’re expected to go to our corners and resume doing whatever it was we were doing.

Well, I’m mad as you-know-what and I’m not going to take it anymore.

I want answers. And if I don’t get them, I’m going to sit in the middle of the floor and throw a tantrum.

What is it that we’re not doing?

It’s not a matter of Intrust Bank Arena’s size, as many seem to believe. IBA has a seating capacity of 15,000 for basketball, well above the NCAA’s mandate. Besides, two arenas that will host in 2014 and 2015 — Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Spokane and Viejas Arena in San Diego — are smaller venues to IBA.

That doesn’t mean I think Sedgwick County and arena planners thought big enough when they drew up the plans for Intrust Bank Arena. They didn’t. It should be big enough to seat 18,000, at least. But the reason the NCAA snubbed us isn’t because of the arena’s seating capacity.

Airport logistics are another important factor the NCAA considers. Except, apparently, in the case of Spokane, which is about as easy to get to as Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland.

We do have ample air service to Wichita. We’re the Air Capital, for crying out loud.

Hotel space could be an issue. The NCAA requires enough hotels and rooms to accommodate eight teams and traveling parties along with fans, game officials, NCAA personnel and media. Yes, I know you think those of us in the media would be just fine sleeping under a bridge, but we do appreciate a soft bed.

As a part of the hotel situation, the NCAA requires full-service restaurants in each of the hotels used by teams. No, vending machines do not count.

But the reservation I’ve always had about Intrust Bank Arena and its ability to host an NCAA Tournament doesn’t have to do with the arena’s size, but the space back in the bowels of the arena that are used for television production, media work rooms, interview rooms, dressing rooms, etc. I’ve been told time and again that it isn’t an issue and that there is plenty of space, even if some of it has to be manufactured.

Wichita has to fight against a bunch of other cities that want a piece of the NCAA basketball tournament pie. Fifty-three bids were received, according to NCAA.com, and the organization has to weigh geography heavily when picking sites. To ensure a nationally-balanced tournament, the NCAA men’s basketball committee selects two second- and third-round sites from the West, Midwest, South and East.

There are a bunch of arenas in the Midwest now, which didn’t used to be the case. Omaha, Tulsa, St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Oklahoma City and Little Rock are in the mix from time to time. And Omaha has obviously made a great impression with the NCAA. That city will host for the third time in eight years come 2015. It doesn’t hurt that Omaha has a long history as the home of the College World Series and recent success as host of the United States Olympic swimming trials.

Wichita hasn’t had a lot of NCAA exposure, outside of Wichita State’s past college baseball regionals.

Our city hasn’t had the men’s basketball tournament since 1994, when first- and second-round games were played at the Kansas Coliseum.

We have a great big shiny new building now, one we’re proud of. And one that every country musician in the U.S.A. knows like the strings of a banjo.

But we’re about more than just country music. We’re about basketball, too. And when the NCAA decides to finally grace us with the acceptance of one of our tournament bids, we’ll put on a show like it has never seen.

It’s going to happen, people. It’s just not going to happen as soon as we would like. Thankfully, Wichitans are a patient lot. I give you Kellogg and the WaterWalk as examples.

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