Missouri athletics has future in Kansas City, leaders say

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 10:56 p.m. CST; updated 12:00 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

COLUMBIA — Mike Sanders wore a Missouri tie to a meeting last Wednesday at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce headquarters at Union Station.

Sanders, the executive of Jackson County, met with Missouri Athletics Director Mike Alden and others to discuss how MU's move to the Southeastern Conference would affect its athletic participation in Kansas City.

Sanders graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has been a Missouri football season ticket holder since 1994, but he didn't know how others would react to what Alden had to say. Not everybody, Sanders noted, was wearing a Missouri tie. 

By meeting's end, though, Alden had delivered his message.

"We are not losing a team; we are gaining a conference," Sanders said in a phone interview Monday. "Missouri didn't pack up and move to Tuscaloosa."

No definite plans have been made, but Sanders and Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, said Kansas City will be part of Missouri's new footprint.

The group discussed an annual rivalry football game every September at the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium, an early-season basketball game similar to the one played against Illinois in St. Louis and a holiday basketball tournament hosted by Missouri over the winter break.

In addition, Alden told the group that he hopes to bring the SEC basketball tournament to the city as early as the 2017-2018 season.

Hughes said that while people around Kansas City remain disappointed about losing former Big 12 rivalries, business leaders have moved on.

"The die is cast, let's move on and see if we can't make the best of this situation," he said in a phone interview. "We know that there's a little bit of work to do, but we are encouraged that there can be positive steps taken in the future."

With a few openings still remaining in Missouri’s 2012 football schedule, there is a possibility a game will be played at Arrowhead next season. There is not much time until the schedule needs to be finalized, though (Alden told The Kansas City Star he hopes to have it done by March 1), and Sanders said the quick turnaround might not happen. 

"I think it's going to be a difficult item to pull off," he said. "We want to exhaust every remedy possible to see if we can get a game for 2012, realizing that its far more likely for '13, '14 and beyond."

For what Sanders called a "permanent or semi-permanent" rivalry game, the Kansas Jayhawks would make the most sense. However, because the Kansas athletic department has not expressed any interest in continuing the rivalry, Sanders said it was not realistic to think the move was possible.

"Iowa and Nebraska were the two schools that seemed to have the most support among the group," he said.

Hughes said he was not ready to count Kansas out for the long term. He cited the "natural and long-existing rivalry" between the schools and a persisting appreciation for the rivalry.

"That blood flows two ways," he said. "There is enough interest for the parties here that we can strike up an opportunity and present a proposal. …We might be able to take the Border War that has been so successful and try to find new angles there."

Sanders and Hughes did not say how far along in negotiations Alden was with Iowa and Nebraska, and Alden was not available for comment.

Sanders said once the annual events have been figured out, the group — which also included Chamber of Commerce President Jim Heeter, Chiefs president Mark Donovan and Mayor Pro-Tem Cindy Circo, among others — would put together a bid for the SEC basketball tournament. The SEC moves the tournament to a different city within its geographical confines every year, so while bringing it to Kansas City might be a stretch, it's not unfeasible.

Kansas City already hosts the Big 12 Conference basketball tournament annually, so the logistics of holding two tournaments at the Sprint Center would need to be worked out, Hughes said. It did not make the idea any less appealing.

"When you look at our history and what a college basketball town this is, anybody can get excited about that," Hughes said.

Alden will meet with the group again in late February or early March. Sanders said he likes the direction the transition is headed for both the university and for Kansas City.

"I thought Mike did a very good job of highlighting how much Missouri wants to remain in Kansas City," Sanders said. "When we left that day, I think there was a lot of positive energy around. People are really beginning, for the first time, to see this could actually be a win in the long term."

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