Sherri Coale is Oklahoma to the core. She was born 90 miles south of Oklahoma City, graduated summa cum laude from Oklahoma Christian University, coached at Norman High, and since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996 she has been head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners.
But when it came to moving the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament from Oklahoma City, where it has been staged the past four years and five of the last six, and relocating to Kansas City, Coale was on board with the decision.
“Things run their course,” Coale said. “It had lost its fire in Oklahoma City, there’s no doubt about that. I’m excited to see what Kansas City does for us.”
The women’s tournament returns to Municipal Auditorium for the first time since 2012. It will run jointly with the men’s event at the Sprint Center. The women’s dates are March 12-15, 2020, with the men’s tourney slated for March 11-14.
Coale and other Big 12 coaches were in Kansas City for the league’s media day on Tuesday, and she hardly recognized the place where the tournament started.
“It’s a different Kansas City,” Coale said. “This downtown area was not present the last time our tournament was here.”
Since 2012, Kansas City has added a streetcar line and several hotels and developed other areas of the city. And Coale loves the building where the games will be staged.
Municipal opened in 1936 and has played host to more men’s Final Fours (nine) than any other venue in America.
“This particular venue, I love,” Coale said. “This place is historic and mystical and magical to me. I love the character of this place.”
Fill even half of Municipal, which seats about 9,700, and the building feels alive. The same crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, home of the NBA’s Thunder, felt lost in that space.
“We don’t get to play in the big, fancy place like the guys — well, that’s life,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “I bet if we sold out 18,000 seats every game, Mr. (Big 12 commissioner Bob) Bowlsby would find a way to get us there.”
Fennelly told the players who accompanied him to Kansas City Tuesday that their home court, Hilton Coliseum, “is the best place you can play. This is the second-best place you’ll ever play.”