Big 12 tourneys return to OKC for a second run

Exactly one month from today, the encore comes to town. The Thunder heads west for a three-game road swing and leaves the Oklahoma City spotlight shining brightly for its basketball brethren (and sistren) from the Big 12 Conference.

That's right: On March 11, the Big 12 Basketball Championships return for the second time in the last three years, bringing with them the promise of some great college hoops. On their respective inaugural visits in 2007 " the men's tourney to the Ford Center and the women to Cox Convention Center " both events established new attendance records.

In fact, it was a record-smashing week all the way around, as the men's event sold out in just four months and eventually drew a record 113,274 fans, while the ladies demolished the old conference championship standard set in 2003 at Dallas' Reunion Arena by more than 13,000 spectators.

The women's 2007 final between Oklahoma and Iowa State was played in front of 12,413, which easily eclipsed the old high-water mark of 10,717 (also set at Reunion in '03).

It might seem a bit unlikely the championships could duplicate the success they enjoyed here two years ago, especially on the economic side of things where OKC got an estimated $40 million boost. But with both the Sooner men's and women's squads ranked second nationally, Oklahoma State's teams playing solid and college basketball's overall popularity booming, optimism is no doubt running high.

"We expect more great things this time around," said Tim Brassfield, executive director for the OKC All Sports Association, the organization charged with hosting the tournaments. "We take the approach that we want to do everything with excellence, right down to the smallest detail. Everything that is in our control, we hope to enhance and do it even better than in 2007."

But does that mean the fans will show up, especially with the current economic situation putting a crunch on households nationwide?

So far, so good. The men's event " which takes on a new Wednesday-to-Saturday format this year " is almost sold out, with only a limited number of tickets being returned from various schools around the league. Those tickets will be made available only through the Ford Center box office.

Tickets for the women's tourney have sold very well again, but good seats are still available.

One of the most popular aspects of the 2007 tournament was the location of the two venues, and just how close they are to each other. Only Reno Avenue and a few hundred feet separate the two host arenas, making it ideal for fans interested in taking in games from both events.

Fans can expect to see improvements in a few areas this March, including inside the Cox Center which recently underwent a $62.5 million renovation. The fanfest is expected to be bigger and better and festivities on the sidewalks between the two venues will be enhanced.

There was a positive vibe that was evident in and around the downtown and Bricktown areas the last time Big 12 hoops came to town. Recapturing that atmosphere is at the top of the list for Brassfield and company.

"I believe there is a synergy that exists between all of the entities involved in hosting these events. And that teamwork is a big part of what makes something like this such a success," he said. "Jay C. Upchurch

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