The second week in March is Kansas City’s Mardi Gras. The Big 12 basketball tourney arrives here once again this week on the doorstep of spring, delivering with it four days of suspended reality. We know we’re still in Kansas City but once you cross the Bond Bridge from the north or exit I-35 from the south, you transform into that long-forgotten college kid — but this time with a credit card and a job with PTO. And what better way to burn some PTO than at Kay Barnes’ Power & Light District shoulder-to-shoulder with some of your best friends and enemies? Here is my guide in how to best experience KC’s version of Fat Tuesday in sneakers.
Getting tickets: The tourney is sold out but that’s what Tiger fans kept telling us about Mizzou Arena all season – where empty prime-time seats were everywhere. If you want to experience the Big 12 tourney, the Power & Light District and Iowa State fans, go downtown on Wednesday afternoon for the first-round games. Tickets will be everywhere and at bargain prices. Bring cash in different denominations and try to buy from somebody who looks like a Johnson County resident. My rule of thumb when buying tickets in front of an arena/stadium is this; lighter the complexion of the seller, the cheaper the price. Call it racial profiling if you want but I prefer to call it business – or my Advanced Sports Fanaolgy class titled Caveat Emptor. Here’s another clue; if your seller is not wearing a Big 12 school logo, it’s a no go.
Getting the tough ticket: Tickets for Thursday’s afternoon games, when both Kansas and K-State play, will be as scarce as Colorado fans. I have heard rumors that good seats for the early Thursday session are going for $500 each. If you only have $50 to blow, spend the afternoon at McFadden’s or one of the other P&L sports bars eating nachos and sipping Boulevard Wheats. Being inside Sprint is fun but it ain’t $500 worth of fun. This tourney is just as entertaining experienced from the curb as it is from the concourse. As a matter of fact, the scenery on the curb is usually far more titillating.
Parking: When Sprint Center was being proposed and designed, all the talk was about where is everybody going to park downtown on a work day? Then the Sprint Center promoters came out with some study that showed there were more parking places downtown within a mile of Sprint Center than all of India – or something like that. Avoid parking garages at all costs! They’re cheap, usually no more than $10, and close to Sprint – but a pain in the nads to get out of after the games. I have sat in my car trying to nudge down one of those parking garages longer than I sat in my car trying to get to third base with my first girlfriend. I think she ended up as a defensive coordinator for Planned Parenthood. My suggestion on parking is get there early and park in a street lot five or six blocks away.
What to wear: There are very few neutral fans at the Big 12 tourney. This is a college bookstore’s dream event. More $20 t-shirts and $90 sweaters fly off campus book store’s shelves this week than at a Foot Locker in KCK during riot season. Go with a layered look of your school colors since high temps are supposed to be in the 40s every day except Friday when we get up near 60. I try to wear a fleece jacket that I don’t mind losing. I have had to leave a number of seats at sporting events in such haste I didn’t have time to grab my jacket.
What to eat at the P&L: Your mom would tell you to eat before you go so you don’t have to fill up on “all that junk.” What fun is that? Filling up on junk is one of the best reasons to go! When the Big 8 tourney was held at Kemper, getting a table at the Golden Ox between sessions was akin to hitting the lottery. Now with the P&L District, there are dozens of eateries and every one of them is just as jammed as the Ox used to be. If you travel in a group, send a scout out before the end of the game to secure a table somewhere. It helps if this scout is not much of a basketball fan and can take up three seats all by himself.
What to eat inside Sprint: There are two distinct classes of foods inside Sprint; 1) Food for the masses in the concourse 2) Food for the privileged class in the suites. You want to get access to the good stuff if at all possible. The concourse food is like most other arenas – rushed, cold and crappy. But the selection that is offered to the suite set is pretty darn good. The Perceptive Software Founders Club restaurant and bar is where you want to be. It takes a suite ticket to get in there though – or knowing someone with a suite ticket and one of those cute paper wrist bands that allows you access. Anyone with a Catholic grade school education should have enough scam in them to figure out how to beat this set up. Once you’re in, you’re in. I love the foot-long hot dog they smother in BBQ beef. I’ll eat at least three of those this week. Remember, the more people in the arena the better the chance of your scam working. In other words, eat in the concourse on Wednesday.
The games: Wednesday’s games will remind our Texas friends of basketball in the old Southwest Conference. Attendance will be so sparse that polite conversations will be drowned out by the sound of Nikes squeaking on the Sprint Center court. You have to be a hardcore hoopster to sit through some of these bottom feeder matchups. But if you have kids who want to experience the tourney, Wednesday is the day to take them. You will not believe how different the arena is when Missouri, Kansas or Kansas State plays. It will go from funeral parlor passive on Wednesday afternoon to March Madness at its best come Thursday morning when KU and KSU fans roll in. Mizzou will need to win their 9:00 PM start on Wednesday to get their fans excited. But if all three play on Thursday the P&L might explode.
Thursday: Even if you have no hope of securing a ticket, get down to the P&L on Thursday. Skip out of work after lunch or head down right after you get off. The weather is supposed to be sunny and temps in the mid-to-high 40s. The scene outside Sprint will be nutso. There are basketball courts set up in the middle of the street, people walking around with plastic cups of brew, and everything else that will remind you of a frat party put on by Microsoft. Thursday of the Big 12 tourney might be the best day of the year to be in Kansas City. It’s that cool.
The fans part one: Every school will be represented this week down at the P&L but some are on the brink of becoming extinct. Both Colorado and Nebraska will be making their final appearance at the Big 12 postseason tourney. Buffs fans inside Sprint Center will be harder to spot than a mobile lion at the Kansas City Zoo – and they are just as docile. Colorado elicits less emotion from the rest of the Big 12 fan base than Big 12 women’s fill-in-the-blank. Nebraska on the other hand is thought of as the Judus/Brutus of the North. The Big Red is heading to the Big 10 next season and they will be shunned at the P&L as if they were copulating atop a center table inside the BYU student union. Not to worry, NU and CU are rarely around this tourney long enough to get a buzz on.
The fans part 2: Few pay attention to any fan base that isn’t their own – unless the other fan base is Kansas. The Jayhawks play the role of Darth Vader in this four-day run of basketball’s reality play. Every team’s fan base – especially K-State’s and Mizzou’s – hates the Crimson and Blue, Little Jay, The Twins and the smug massive following they attract. While Nebraska is a villain for leaving, Kansas wears the black hats because they own every other school when it comes to hoops. Seven Big 12 Conference titles in a row. Seven! As much as K-State and Mizzou would like to be them, they hate everything about them. It is what makes Kansas City the perfect place to host this annual meeting of the Hatfields, McCoys and Purple People. Kansas will bring twice as many fans to this party as any other school. They are like the British during the Revolutionary War – there is always another wave of them behind the next watering hole.
Enjoy the tourney and look for my update on the Big 12 Tourney and the P&L scene later this week.
GregHall24@yahoo.com and Twitter / greghall24