Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall starts the bidding at 7,000 Shocker fans.
Put the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament in Oklahoma City — it is 163 miles from Koch Arena to OKC’s Chesapeake Energy Arena — and he is confident his fans will buy tickets in large numbers.
In recent years, an estimated 5,000-6,000 WSU fans attended the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis, a 443-mile drive.
“Think about that,” he said. “Just how many Shocker fans would roll into Oklahoma City? I would guess 7,000. That’s a lot, as far as filling up a building.”
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That possibility was discussed at the recent conference meetings. AAC coaches, Marshall said, like the potential for bigger crowds in a city located within easy driving distance of several schools. That could be Oklahoma City and the Chesapeake Energy Center, which seems to be the city discussed most often as a potential destination.
“I was very pleasantly surprised that that was on the table so quickly,” Marshall said. “They’re going on what we’ve done in the past, which is a good assumption, because it’s only going to get better.”
Oklahoma City is within 500 miles of five American schools — Tulsa (106), WSU (163), SMU (206), Houston (448) and Memphis (466).
Oklahoma City offers a neutral site, an NBA arena and a reasonable drive for schools that draw for basketball.
“It’s not just us, but because of the other schools in the Midwest and how they anticipate us drawing to a conference tournament,” Marshall said. “I just see it drawing well. That was the biggest thing that came out (from the meetings). (Houston) Coach (Kelvin) Sampson said ‘Look, that’s a basketball city. Look how they support the Thunder.’”
The AAC tournament started in Memphis and alternated between Hartford, Conn., and Orlando since. It will be in Orlando in March and no site has been announced past 2018.
“We need to establish a place — and I’m not saying it needs to be there all the time — that really takes some ownership in supporting a league like ours,” Marshall said.
The American won’t get the full benefit of adding Wichita State until it moves its tournament to the Midwest. Shocker fans will gladly pay for the privilege.