By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
One day at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, former Missouri Southern men’s athletics director Jim Frazier noticed some people exchanging money for basketball tickets.
Frazier turned to then-MIAA commissioner Ralph McFillen and said, “They’re scalping tickets, Ralph. We have arrived.”
In 2003 the MIAA moved its postseason basketball tournament from campus sites to historic Municipal Auditorium, the site of more NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships than any other arena in the country.
“Jerry Hughes (Central Missouri AD) and I had been at Louisville for the Elite Eight (in 2000),” Frazier said. “We wanted to move the Elite Eight to Kansas City. There was an opening at the time … Kansas City did not have the Big 12 Tournament or the NAIA Tournament, and we made a bonafide bid to get the Elite Eight out of Louisville and in Kansas City. We got shut down.
“Jerry and I then went to the conference. We saw this window, and our vision was a duplication of the old NAIA Tournament. Our vision included a clinic on Saturday, (high school) teams coming in. That hasn’t happened. Our motivation was there were about 600,000 alumni of MIAA schools in the Kansas City area. We felt the support should be there.”
The idea wasn’t welcomed with open arms throughout the league.
“There were those in the conference — presidents, athletic directors, faculty, coaches — who fought us tooth and nail,” Frazier said. “They couldn’t understand how we could give (postseason tournament home games) up. We had some battles.”
Lions men’s coach Robert Corn was one who had doubts about the move.
“I was not sure how it would be received … would the crowds come and support their team,” he said. “But after having the experience, it is the best thing we’ve ever done.
“There is nothing like that atmosphere. Even though the crowds are smaller, the crowd is right on top of you. You get those same people at a home event and take them to that event, for whatever reason it seems to get a lot louder. They cheer more, they cheer louder. They feel like they are part of something really good. I’m very much for having the tournament in Kansas City.”
“When the tournament moved to Kansas City, it created a tournament with class and dignity,” Lions women’s coach Maryann Mitts said. “It also made the MIAA Tournament something that our student-athletes will never forget.
“To me, it was all positive. Playing in the most historic basketball building in the country … being from Kansas City, I took that building for granted. That’s where we hosted high school sectionals. When I was at UMKC, we played our home games there. I took for granted how nostalgic that building is. Now it means a lot to me and to the players on the floor.”
“It was a little bit daunting at first, thinking about trying to run a tournament in Kansas City,” former MSSU women’s athletics director Sallie Beard said. “The idea initially was not warmly embraced, but people came around and realized it is a great event.
“It showcased the MIAA. It created headlines in a major metropolitan area. Kansas City has a great history of basketball, and at the time there was a void in Kansas City. The MIAA kind of filled the void during the early years of the tournament. Also it was a great experience for the student-athlete.”
“It’s a big thing for the MIAA,” Frazier said. “What you will see in Kansas City this week is players playing their hearts out. And we’re in the business for the players. It’s better for the conference. You didn’t see that many upsets when games were on campus, but with a neutral court, there have been more upsets.”