IN THE STANDS: Tournament draws big crowd in KC

I didn’t plan on going to Kansas City to watch basketball over spring break, but apparently thousands of other Kansas basketball fans did.

After considering trips to New York, St. Louis and Omaha, I had to settle for a much more exotic location: Kansas City’s Sprint Center.

On television, it appeared every arena was empty for the NCAA tournament’s first round, with the exception of a few college students and retired fans who could make the road trip.

I expected more of the same for the second round in Kansas City, especially with Kansas and Missouri playing at other sites. However, the arena was filled almost to capacity with fans from all four teams that were playing, as well as KU supporters who had nothing better to do until Sunday’s game against Dayton.

The lower level was split evenly four ways between Memphis, Oklahoma, Maryland and Michigan fans, while the upper level was a mixture of Jayhawks and other misguided fans who paid for tickets hoping to see their team play.

The environment was as good as it gets for a second round game at a neutral site.

Memphis fans mocked Maryland by chanting “ACC, ACC” in the final minutes of the blowout win. Maryland responded by starting the Rock Chalk chant, reminding Memphis of last year’s championship loss.

Although tickets weren’t cheap (about $65 face value for upper level, and even more from one of your friendly scalpers), it was good to see Kansas City had one of the few highly-attended arenas in the opening rounds.

This event had a lot of potential for the Sprint Center, and the city in general. We missed out on the NHL and NBA bringing the Penguins or Sonics to Missouri, but the large crowd showed the NCAA how big the college basketball fan base is in the area and sets up the chance of hosting more tournament games in the future.

In my opinion, the arena was built primarily for sports. Music fans might be satisfied with performances from a washed-up Garth Brooks and Disney star Hannah Montana, but I’d much rather watch Sidney Crosby or Kevin Durant lead a franchise on a nightly basis.

There are enough unstable franchises in professional sports that the Sprint Center still has hope of landing another major league team, and nationally televised events like Thursday and Saturday’s NCAA games can only help Kansas City’s odds.