Kansas City, with its barbecue and its familiarity, beckons Wichita State University basketball fans.
It appears to be the perfect NCAA Tournament destination. And it might be, if watching the tournament on TV or a pep rally in the Power & Light District are your things. For those who want to watch in person, a trip to Austin, Texas, might turn out to fill the needs of more Shocker fans.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee will announce its 68-team field on Sunday, and WSU is expected to be among the 37 at-large teams. The committee could send WSU to one of eight sites for games beginning Thursday or Friday. Kansas City and Austin are the two within reasonable driving distance, although the Shockers won’t get any geographical protection from the committee.
The issue with Kansas City is the expected presence of the highly-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, whose fans will make tickets expensive and rare. The NCAA tries to keep the 16-highest seeds close to home.
There is a chance schools such as Kansas State, Missouri, Creighton, WSU and Saint Louis could join the Jayhawks in a seller’s market amid all manner of backyard brawls.
“I think it will be a lot easier ticket to get in Austin,” Shocker fan Roger Shurtz said. “With KU in Kansas City, it’s going to be really tough to get a ticket there. Nobody cares about basketball in Texas.”
WSU can receive a maximum allotment of around 400 tickets for each site. Season-ticket holders get first shot, and they claimed all available for Kansas City and Austin, according to the WSU ticket office. While requests from season-ticket holders fall as the distance grows, minimum allotments are spoken for at all sites. If you are not in that group of 400 or so season-ticket holders, buying direct or shopping the secondary market are options.
“I put in for everywhere I could drive to,” WSU fan Steve Warfield said. “And I stretched a little bit with Auburn Hills, Mich. Austin would be a place I would definitely go.”
Only upper-level seats behind the baselines remain in Kansas City’s 19,000-seat Sprint Center. In Austin, seats are available in the upper and lower levels in the 16,540-seat Erwin Center.
Prices for tickets through private companies are available now, though they will change on Sunday when teams are assigned sites. Should one or two regional teams accompany KU to the Sprint Center, demand will grow.
“It’s 150 percent depending on who’s going to be here,” said Brian Nelson, vice president of sales for Tickets for Less, an Overland Park-based company. “If we hit on (several local teams), it will be phenomenal.”
On Friday, single-session tickets (two games) ranged in price from $109 to $425 at the Sprint Center on ticketsforless.com. At ticketsolutions.com, they ranged from $100 to $500. At nationwidetickets.com, Friday’s all-session passes (four games) ranged from $595 to $1,989.
“It will be a very, very, very hard ticket, especially if Kansas State gets here,” said Hal Wagner, owner of Ace Sports and Nationwide Tickets. “We’re 99 percent sure KU is here.”
Demand is expected to be lighter in Austin. At ticketsforless.com, single-session passes range from $72 to $360.
Most bracket projections use Austin as a dumping ground for Midwest and East schools such as Marquette, Minnesota and Florida, which don’t fit closer to home. New Mexico, 706 miles away in Albuquerque, is the closest school with a chance to be seeded in the top four. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and New Mexico State are also possibilities as regional draws.
There is a slight chance WSU could be assigned a No. 12 seed and play Tuesday or Wednesday in the first round in Dayton, Ohio.
The WSU Alumni Association, through Sunflower Travel, is planning to charter a plane to any destination except Kansas City. On Monday, around 150 people on the list will decide whether they are in or not.
Spring break complicates matters, with many flights already full of college students. Sunflower Travel President Devin Hansen said flights returning next weekend are largely sold out.
“We have several destinations we think it could be,” he said. “We don’t have that crystal ball.”