KC's Top 12 Sports Stories Of '12: Will The Sprint Center Garner A New Franchise?

Here's our look at the top 12 stories for Kansas City sports fans coming up in 2012. From the Chiefs new head coach to the promising Royals, it's going to be an interesting year in sports.

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KC's Top 12 Sports Stories Of '12: Will The Sprint Center Garner A New Franchise?

Patrons of Kansas City often become frustrated by the lack of post-season success by their sports teams, but there is also another frustration that goes well beyond any team. That would be the four and half year old Sprint Center near the Power and Light district. It certainly is a capable arena as it holds anywhere from 17,544 for hockey to 18,555 for basketball.

The issue here is both sports have come and gone in Kansas City before, and though it's a large city by midwest standards, we know Kansas City is still a small fish in the big pond. The saving grace may be an ownership group, AEG, that has shown interest in bringing professional sports to the Sprint Center.

Personally, I think the NHL is a more likely scenario in the long run as Kansas City would have a natural rival in the St Louis Blues. Also, the community has been further down the road with the NHL in recent years than they have been with the NBA. Mario Lemieux used the Sprint Center as leverage to get a new arena built in Pittsburgh for the Penguins. Also there seems to be more NHL teams in flux when it comes to relocation in the near future.

There are many rivals to Kansas City in terms of acquiring either an NBA or NHL team. Seattle and Las Vegas are often brought up for both, while Quebec City and Hartford are often mentioned for returns of NHL teams. While the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas is spacious, it's nearly 20 years old, and doesn't have all the bells and whistles that the Sprint Center has.

With many arenas struggling (especially the NBA) in drawing solid attendance, I can see why arena ownership may be content without having an anchor tenant, but the allure of having another professional team would be much better for the city as a whole. Madonna may be coming to Kansas City, but she and other acts won't be using the facilities at the Sprint Center as often as a sports franchise would.

So as they have been for going on five years now, the citizens of Kansas City are stuck in a holding pattern when it comes to obtaining another major sports franchise. Though the window is still open, I wouldn't stand and wait for a team to enter. If it comes, it comes, however I suggest rallying behind the team we already have. The Royals are going to be a lot of fun over the next few years, and the Chiefs should rebound in a weak division as they return many players from injury.

But as always, things can quickly change. Afterall, that window is open, no matter how small it may seem.


KC's Top 12 Sports Stories Of '12: Charlie Weis' First Year At Kansas

Charlie Weis and his takeover of the Kansas football program in 2012 will undoubtedly be one of the more closely followed stories in Kansas City. After two disastrous years under Turner Gill and just five years removed from an Orange Bowl championship, Weis begins working toward the goal of rebuilding a Kansas program that looked to be on the cusp of something not long ago.

At this point the expectations aren't enormously high. Kansas fans have come to grips with the harsh reality that Turner Gill and his staff did a poor job at developing and managing a program. That means that while Kansas fans do expect improvement, it doesn't necessarily have to manifest itself in the form of a bowl game or a winning season. What Kansas fans will want to see is a team that is competitive in the Big 12 because last year the Jayhawks were far removed from that.

The good news is that Weis has set the tone early. Wholesale changes have been made in terms of the approach and intensity of the strength and conditioning program. Weis has set a precedent and high expectations in terms of player accountability on the field and in the classroom and the new Jayhawk coach has used his first recruiting class to infuse the program with junior college talent and transfers that will provide competition and hopefully help to change the culture around Kansas football.

It really is an opportunity to come in during year one and make some positive strides when the stakes are relatively low. It's almost the opposite of what Turner Gill walked into. The recently fired Gill walked into a program that had recently experienced some success but had also fallen short of expectations one year prior. Gill proceeded to take what was perhaps a sinking ship and find a way to increase the speed with which it was sinking.

Now Weis has his opportunity at a second chance and it's a chance to revive that program. When the hire was made it raised some eyebrows, drew some criticism, but it also put a small spotlight on Jayhawk football. Weis has since carried himself with confidence, made some noise in the transfer market and that momentum has built some positive early returns among a Kansas fan base that was looking for a reason to feel optimistic about football again.

Check out other entries in the series below:
1. Romeo Crennel's first season as Chiefs head coach
2. Missouri moves to the SEC
3. K-State's quest for repeat success
4. Sporting KC looks to continue winning ways
5. Oklahoma City Thunder moves into NBA's elite


KC's Top 12 Sports Stories of '12: The Elite Status Of The Oklahoma City Thunder

Can a large scale story also qualify as under the radar? The easy answer is "yes" and the obvious example is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let’s go back to five short years ago when a team in Oklahoma City was just a dream that Clay Bennett had as he went to bed at night. After purchasing the Seattle Supersonics everyone knew the franchise was not long for the great northwest. No public funding for a new NBA arena was the "out" Bennett needed, and the franchise soon headed to the Sooner state.

In 2008 the Thunder took their first steps as a brand new franchise in a brand new town. Now four years later, this team that was left for dead is on the doorstep of playing and possibility winning the NBA title. I don’t think people remember how bad things were for the Thunder in their inaugural season. In their first 32 games they won 3 of them. Yes, you read that correctly. They had seven losing streaks of at least 3 games. They lost 14 games in a row, won a game then lost their next eight games. Just for reference this is a team that had Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in their second years and Russell Westbrook as a rookie. And they had a point where they lost 14 games in a row. If you should ever wonder why people talk about the epic nature of the Thunder’s story, this is why.

The Thunder is an example of the great things fans want from the NBA. Everyone focuses on the negative, me-first attitude of professional sports and athletes. And NBA players take most of the hit on that mindset from sports fans. Two lockouts in 20+ years did not help either. You know who else did not help the NBA me-first image problem? The antics of Carmelo Anthony with the Nuggets, Deron Williams of the Nets and LeBron James' Decision. All of these players are stars on the court, but holding a team hostage while they grandstand and demand to be traded to a larger media market is killing the NBA. It is a long and painful death. We see it and are not happy about it.

That is why the Thunder matters and why this team winning the NBA Championship is a big story. While all those superstars were making sure they ended up in a market that would help build their brand Kevin Durant was signing an extension to stay in small market Oklahoma City. While Dwight Howard demanded to be traded from the Orlando Magic, Russell Westbrook signed a team- and cap-friendly extension to stay with Durant in OKC for the next five years. Don’t assume winning isn’t important to these guys. In the case of LeBron James and Chris Bosh that was their number one motivation. But in the case of Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard that seems to be secondary. The playing ability of Durant was a major reason signed his extension with the Thunder. But that does not dimension the statement it sends.

The NBA is a league driven by bigger markets. The league was "saved" by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the ‘80s while playing in the large media markets of Los Angeles and Boston respectively. Michael Jordan took the torch in the ‘90s while calling the Windy City his home. There have been rare exceptions to the big market NBA teams. The San Antonio Spurs proved that in the 2000s. But the days of Tim Duncan and company playing great offense, defense, and boring the causal fan to death feels like eons ago.

The Thunder is the lone team able to carry the small market torch for the "lesser thans" in the NBA. This team is what all other teams wish to be. But for some reason they are unable to be like the Thunder, whether it’s from poor evaluation of talent or fear of taking the plunge into full rebuild mode. A few things did break the Thunder’s trail to put them in this position. Having the Trailblazer pass on Durant and draft Greg Oden instead could have been the tipping point. But this team has been rewarded for their risks too in Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

The Thunder’s title hopes are a big story as the NBA season moves along. Do they, though, actually have a realistic chance of winning the title this season? The answer is yes. Having the lockout shortened, a season of 66 games being played in 120 days benefits the Thunder and other teams with young and elite talent. The Thunder have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to their talent with the best player (Kevin Durant) and the second best point guard (Russell Westbrook) in the Western Conference. And the Western Conference is weaker this year than it was last year. The defending champion Mavericks are taking a long time to find the right mix to fill the void of players lost from last season. The Lakers started looking old in a hurry.

The Grizzlies bandwagon is in full "broke down on the side of road" mode. The Clippers are improving everyday and playing well but they still have some inexperienced guys on the team. The Spurs are the same Spurs they were last season, just a year older and still waiting for Manu Ginobili to come back from injury. The Nuggets are the other Western Conference contender but their lack of a true superstar to take over games and carry them is going to hurt them in the playoffs. This sets up pretty damn well for the Thunder to make a deep run ending in a NBA Finals appearance.

When the Thunder scores the NBA title, it will be a victory for all of the people who get sick of big market media coverage and a score for the little guy. It will be a victory for everyone who has ever felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Even when the Thunder were losing 29 out of 32, they got to a point where in four years they are the best team in the Western Conference and heading toward a NBA Finals appearance.

Check out other entries in the series below:
1. Romeo Crennel's first season as Chiefs head coach
2. Missouri moves to the SEC
3. K-State's quest for repeat success
4. Sporting KC looks to continue winning ways


KC's Top 12 Sports Stories Of '12: Can Sporting KC Continue To Win?

By all accounts, the 2011 MLS season was a huge success for Sporting Kansas City. Off the field, the franchise re branded from the Wizards name of old, into the Sporting organization that we all know today. The club also opened the brand new $200 million dollar LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

On the field, Sporting equaled the success of the front office moves, finishing the regular season atop the Eastern Conference. Kansas City would defeat the defending MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids in a two leg series, before finally falling to the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final.

The success and accolades Sporting experienced in 2011 means that the the going will be a bit tougher if Kansas City hopes to repeat, or surpass the levels they reached a season ago.

One could make the case that Kansas City had the advantage of sneaking under the radar in 2011. Sporting won't have the luxury of being labeled the "underdogs" in 2012. Every team in Major League Soccer will be gunning for Kansas City now.

Last season, Sporting were also able to go largely unscathed in regards to injuries to key players. There were nicks here or there along the way, but the club never experienced a player of the caliber of say, Graham Zusi or Matt Besler being out for an extended amount of time due to injury. Will Sporting Kansas City have the same luck this season? The odds would probably suggest otherwise.

Also to be taken into account is the fact that a number of Sporting's top level players may miss significant time due to international play. Last season both Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone), Teal Bunbury (U.S.), and Roger Espinoza (Honduras) spent time with their respective national teams. This year you can add Zusi and CJ Sapong (both U.S.) to that list, which means that Sporting could be hurting if any number of these players are called up for national team duty, and have to miss time with Kansas City.

Of course, the biggest question in all of this is just how Sporting Kansas City will deal with the weight of expectations. Sporting are now viewed as one of the best teams in MLS, and a true title contender. There's a general sense among the fans in Kansas City that there's no reason the team shouldn't be able to reach the MLS Cup Final in 2012. The organization itself has said that anything less would be a disappointment.

Those expectations of an MLS Cup Final appearance, and just how the club reacts to playing the role of "Eastern Conference favorite", are what makes Sporting Kansas City's upcoming season one of the top stories in 2012.

Check out other entries in the series below:
1. Romeo Crennel's first season as Chiefs head coach
2. Missouri moves to the SEC
3. K-State's quest for repeat success


KC's Top 12 Sports Stories For '12: Can Kansas State Repeat Football Success?

The 2011 Kansas State Wildcats football team definitely kept their fans on the edge of their seats in almost every game this past season en route to a 10-3 overall finish. The Wildcats had nine total games that were determined by a final margin of seven points or less with K-State being victorious in eight of those ball games.

Winning such contested and dramatic ballgames helped make the season special for the team and fans alike. Now the question becomes has Bill Snyder finally run out of magic in Manhattan or can he once again lead K-State to the top of the Big 12 standings in 2012.

There are many factors, some more realistic and some far-fetched, which can be speculated on regarding the ripple effects if K-State can once duplicate their success.

With the Big 12 losing perennial bowl teams like Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska the past few years combined the recent downhill slide of the Texas Longhorns, the league is needing someone to step up and fill the void. If K-State comes out of the gates strong and looks like a contender to Oklahoma, then the Wildcats could very well be in line for many top primetime television slots. Every player on the team as well as every school across the country wants to play on national television and this could be K-State’s best opportunity in a long time.

Falling in line with more television exposure is the potential effect it could have on recruiting. Even though Snyder says they will not alter their recruiting strategy it definitely could make a few more kids, especially transfers, take a look at what is going on in Manhattan.

The possible boon to recruiting from another strong season could also lead to some struggles down the road in Lawrence. Even though the State of Kansas does not produce a plethora of D1 talent on a yearly basis it is important for each of the two schools to try and keep the best the state has to offer. You can look back no further than 2007, when the Jayhawks had their best season ever they had standout Big 12 performers like Jake Sharp, Mike Rivera, Kerry Meier and Darrell Stuckey all hailing from the Sunflower State. If the Wildcats once again have a strong year in 2012 and easily handle KU on the field for a third straight season how might this affect recruiting of local high school players in the state?

While keeping the Kansas high school player is definitely important, perhaps just as important for K-State and KU is the acquisition of talent from the JuCo level. The Wildcats have long been known for finding solid players from the junior college level and another solid year in 2012 will no doubt involve strong play from some incoming JuCo recruits. This could only help KSU in their future junior college recruiting efforts overall but more specifically on a local level.

For example, recently Chaquil Reed, a junior college DT from Butler County CC, switched his commitment from KU over to K-State after visiting Manhattan. With the Jayhawks likely still in need of some quick impact players following the upcoming season, another strong year from Bill Snyder’s squad could make junior college recruiting that much more difficult for Charlie Weis.

Now one of the tougher implications to guess about if K-State once again finishes with double digit wins is how it affects Bill Snyder’s coaching future. It is no secret that Snyder isn’t the youngest of coaches and many wonder how long his second stint back at K-State will be. Could another strong year in 2012 be exactly what Snyder needs to stay jump-started and continue to lead the program for another five or so years?

Or is the opposite true and Snyder feels he has accomplished all he can and placed the program back to where he once again feels comfortable stepping down as head coach? While everyone knows the Kansas State job isn’t a destination position for most, two back to back double digit wins season should open up the possible coaching talent pool for athletic director John Currie.

No doubt this upcoming season the Wildcats will likely be playing the role of favorite more than they did in 2011 so it should be interesting to see how it plays out. The fact that schools like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor are having to replace superstars only helps bolster Wildcat fans hope of a possible Big 12 title in 2012.

If you missed the first story in the series, check out Romeo Crennel's first year as Chiefs's head coach. Coming up tomorrow: Checking in on Sporting KC's chances to repeat in 2012.


KC's Top 12 Sports Stories For '12: Mizzou's Move To SEC

The biggest story in 2011 for the University of Missouri was undoubtedly conference realignment and its eventual shift from the Big 12 to the SEC. Looking ahead to the rest of 2012, everyone will be watching to see how the school adjusts to its new home in the best athletic conference in the nation.

There have been an uncountable number of debates on whether this is the right move for Missouri, but no one can change the fact that the Tigers are on their way to the SEC to sink or swim in the conference that lays claim to the last six football national champions.

Football wise, Missouri enters the conference at the most prosperous time in the program's history, recording 48 wins over the last five seasons. Plus, the Tigers will compete in the eastern division of the SEC, the softer of the two divisions in the 14-team league, so it seems like they are on track to be competitive early on in the SEC.

Still, the Tigers have no real idea how this is all going to turn out. How long will they be able to stay prominent in the SEC or will they slip into mediocrity and become a school kind of like Tennessee is right now? Will Missouri be able to change its recruiting methods and start getting highly rated kids from Georgia and Florida to come to the Midwest to play football? If they can't, they could start to see their recent surge in football prominence dwindle.

Those concerns are valid, but we may have some positive answers for that question already, the most notable of which was getting a national letter of intent from the number one recruit in the nation, Dorial Green-Beckham, and the chaos that ensued afterward.

The same day that the announcement was made, a billboard was put up in DGB's hometown of Springfield, welcoming him to Tiger Nation. SB Nation's Jason Kirk wrote that this act made him believe Columbia is ready for the SEC.

After the announcement was made in November that a move to the SEC was official, students and alumni began coming to football games dressed in their "SEC Best" (sweater vests and sun dresses, everyone!), a clear sign that most Missouri fans were in favor of the move.

By being around Tiger fans for the past seven months, you can tell that most feel a newfound sense of responsibility now that their team is in the SEC. The conference prides itself on being the most unified conference in the nation and Missouri wants to fit into that group as quickly as possible.

Over the next 11 months, Tiger fans will continue to adjust to SEC culture and the city of Columbia will do all it can to do the same. How far they will go is to be determined, but you can expect a lot of changes to the gameday atmosphere in football and general attitude toward their team and their conference.

For example, the city of Columbia is trying to close off streets in downtown during home football games to create a kind of huge tailgating area and a place to congregate and visit when opposing fans come to town.

This kind of thing would have never happened as long as the Tigers stayed in the crumbling Big 12 Conference.

The city of Columbia and the university have begun their transition to more of an SEC culture, but another thing to watch out for is how Kansas City responds to the conference and culture change of the university. Will the city begin to lose Tiger fans at a rapid pace, or will they stay strong and expand the footprint of the SEC a little more to the west?

There will be some backlash in the city, as seen by Kansas' reaction to the conference move and the billboards that were erected by the KU athletic program, but Missouri is going to do all it can to stay relevant in the KC area.

That's what makes this storyline so interesting. Missouri is opening up so many new doors in the southeastern part of the country, but at what price will those new opportunities come for? We'll probably have a lot more answers to these questions at the end of 2012.

If you missed the first story in the series, check out Romeo Crennel's first year as Chiefs's head coach. Coming up tomorrow: Kansas State's chances of repeating their 2011 success.

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