Wichita State Shockers

Arena gets women's NCAA

Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita (2009)
Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita (2009) File photo

The NCAA is giving Wichita basketball fans a different version of March Madness.

The NCAA included Intrust Bank Arena among the 16 sites for women's first- and second-round tournament games in 2011.

Last month, the NCAA rejected the arena's bid to hold men's tournament games.

"It tells us we've got a great venue and a great basketball community," Wichita State University athletic director Eric Sexton said. While his school has never qualified for the women's tournament, it is guaranteed to play at home should it qualify in 2011.

The games will be played either March 19 and 21 or March 20 and 22. Four teams will play three games to determine who advances to a regional site for the round of 16 the following weekend.

Tickets should be plentiful to games at the 15,000-seat arena. The women's tournament drew an average of 4,915 fans in 2009.

WSU worked on the bid with the arena's management firm, SMG, and the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission. They will hope the NCAA brackets a Big 12 or Missouri Valley Conference team to help sell tickets.

"A huge key is getting good teams in here," Sports Commission president and CEO Bob Hanson said. "That's not in our hands at all."

Geography played a large role in selecting sites. The criteria, which includes arena size, flights and hotel availability, is similar to the criteria for selecting sites for the men's tournament.

The minimum capacity for the women's first- and second-round games is 5,000, compared to 12,000 for the men's tournament.

"You want to have crowds there," said Jane Meyer, chair of the Division I Women's Basketball Committee. "If Wichita's in, they get to play at home. If Wichita's not in, where can they pull (fans) from?"

WSU is not the only local team with the potential to sell tickets.

Kansas State University and the University of Oklahoma are NCAA Tournament regulars that ranked in the top 20 nationally in attendance. The Sooners drew 11,529 fans to Oklahoma City's Ford Center for a regional championship game in 2009. Missouri State University of the Valley also ranked in the top 20 for average attendance.

WSU is rebuilding its program under second-year coach Jody Adams. She sees the possibility of playing downtown in the NCAA Tournament as a strong incentive to improve as quickly as possible.

"Absolutely," she said. "For it to be here, in your hometown, it's really exciting for our staff and our kids."

Regardless of which teams come to Wichita, she sees hosting as good for the sport. Adams played for the 1991 NCAA champions at Tennessee and coached Murray State University to the 2008 tournament.

"The athleticism and talent that will be here in our town is very exciting," she said.

Intrust Bank Arena must hold a basketball game by Feb. 1, 2011, as a practice session for the tournament. That fits with WSU's desire to play a men's game annually at the downtown arena.

WSU senior associate athletic director Becky Endicott said the women's program is considering moving its annual school-children's matinee game to Intrust Bank Arena.

Organizers want this event to show the NCAA that Intrust Bank Arena and Wichita are worthy hosts. They plan to bid on future men's basketball tournaments.

Endicott also mentioned the volleyball Final Four as an event that she thinks would work in Wichita.

"I hopes this sets up an opportunity for us to host additional NCAA events," she said. "There are very few Division I schools that get the opportunity to showcase that level of basketball in their communities."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle