KANSAS CITY, Mon – The Big 12 Championships return to Kansas City this week. But like most things these days, the experience will be different, with restrictions on fans and other safety precautions.
The men’s basketball teams arrived at the T-Mobile Center on Tuesday and trained before the tournament. The women are playing in the town auditorium just a few blocks away.
The men’s tournament begins on Wednesday evening. The women’s tournament starts on Thursday evening.
This year the teams need more than one win record to keep going. Players must pass a COVID-19 test every day.
“If someone tests positive, it’s up to the conference and the team, and they’ll report it to the health department and then it’ll be a medical decision about what happens from there,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of Kansas City Sports Commission said.
Fans who will be watching can expect some changes as well.
The overcrowded pep rallies are a thing of the past due to the pandemic. FanFest will not take place this year either. But organizers and fans are just happy to have Big 12 games again.
“It’s great. It’s exciting,” said Nelson. “It’s a little intense, you know? Things are different.”
Nelson, her team from KC Sports Commission, along with the NCAA, the KC Health Department and the T-Mobile Center are the driving forces behind getting fans safely to the stands.
“We encourage people to come early and pack lightly,” said Shani Tate Ross, vice president of sales and marketing at the T-Mobile Center.
She said about 3,300 people are allowed to enter the arena. They do “pod seating”. There can be a maximum of eight people in a group and they must all arrive at the same time.
“If they’re not all with you at this point, anyone who isn’t with you can’t get in,” Nelson said.
There is a 20-foot buffer zone around the square, said Tate Ross.
Masks are required at all times. Food and drink are available from the concession booths, but you must eat in your seat.
Kansas State fan Bryce Lundgren played one of the last men’s games last year before the tournaments were canceled. He recalls the announcement and says fans will no longer be allowed due to the COVID-19 protocols.
“The crowd definitely booed,” Lundgren said with a laugh.
Not a crowd puller, but a safe decision at this time. A year later, the organizers are happy to welcome the people back.
Although it will look and feel different, Lundgren said fans who personally cheer on their favorite college team are game changers.
“Basketball, no fans around, it’s just very different,” said Lundgren. “I think that’s a good thing, especially for the Kansas City area.”
The tickets are currently sold out. As certain teams advance and others lose, tickets for future games may become available.
If you’d like to see the games and don’t have a ticket, KC Power & Light welcomes fans. They suggest you make a reservation to secure one of the socially distant tables.
The KC Sports Commission also encourages fans to take part in the Big 12 Food Drive and donate blood.
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