Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: A holiday basketball tournament idea that includes Wichita State

The Sprint Center is home to the CBE Classic in November. What about adding a college basketball tournament with an even more regional feel during the holidays?
The Sprint Center is home to the CBE Classic in November. What about adding a college basketball tournament with an even more regional feel during the holidays?

I’ll never stop missing the old Big Eight holiday tournament, even though it hasn’t been played since 1978. That’s showing my age, but what the heck. My age has been showing for a while now.

Saturday, a bunch of veteran sportswriters, all of whom have been around long enough to remember and to have covered that long-gone tournament, were talking before the Kansas-Utah game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. We reminisced about the tournament, which was played between Christmas and New Year’s at Kemper Arena in its later years.

And, as sports writers are prone to do, we started tossing around ideas that might recapture, as Bruce Springsteen might say, a little of those glory days. We tossed around ideas for a modern-day holiday basketball tournament that could get people excited.

The CBE Classic is becoming a November college basketball staple in Kansas City and it coincides with the College Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The CBE regularly includes at least one team with a strong fan base close to Kansas City like Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Wichita State and Iowa State. The 2015 field includes Missouri, K-State, North Carolina and Northwestern.

But what about December?

Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri have all played regular-season games at the Sprint Center, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

What about a four-team tournament at the Sprint Center every year that had a pure regional feel?

Something like Wichita State, Kansas State, Creighton and Missouri? You could switch up teams from time to time, but three-fourths of the field would be made up of these anchors.

Of course, there would be details to work out. Would these teams be willing to give up a couple of home dates to play regularly in a Kansas City tournament? The money would have to make sense.

Fans, though, would love this. Being in Kansas City for a couple of days over the holidays would be a huge draw, especially with such built-in rivals competing.

But do you notice an omission here?

What about the Kansas Jayhawks?

Well, KU coach Bill Self has made it clear that he’s not willing to play against Wichita State or Missouri. Until that changes, what’s the point of inviting KU? Even though Kansas has an incredibly strong alumni base in Kansas City, I think this tournament would work without the Jayhawks.

Imagine Wichita State vs. Missouri and Kansas State vs. Creighton with the winners – and losers – to meet on the second day.

The annual KU game at the Sprint Center is becoming a little stale, anyway. The Jayhawks play in the Sprint Center all the time, so there’s nothing unique about Kansas being there for a December game, even against a top-notch opponent like Utah.

A second big Sprint Center tournament, this one during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, would be huge. It would feel special. It would become a destination.

Maybe Wichita State should investigate doing something like this at Intrust Bank Arena, though IBA seats more than 4,000 fewer people than the Sprint Center. And Wichita isn’t as centrally located as Kansas City. And let’s face it, there’s not as much for out-of-town fans to do in Wichita as there is in KC.

The Sprint Center seems like the perfect spot for something like this. The games would, of course, be nationally televised. The fan bases would be wired, even without going to all the bars and restaurants in the Power and Light District across Grand Street from the Sprint Center.

I like this idea. It needs some tweaking, for sure. It would probably be good to include Iowa State and Nebraska in the mix from time to time, and to perhaps come up with a couple of other regional schools to keep in the loop.

What do you think? Remember, this idea came up when a group of old sports writers were reminiscing about a holiday tournament from yesteryear. We often like to hold on to the past.