Kansas State and University of Kansas fans are getting an education about just how valued their sports programs are. In what could become a major college conference shuffle, the Big 12 may be dead by press time, and KU and K-State may be schools without partners.
It’s a nightmare scenario for college sports fans in Kansas.
“I really got my feelings hurt thinking no one wanted KU,” said Bill Bond, Gardner resident and 1967 KU graduate.
“I thought they had a better reputation than what others perceive. I am at a loss as to why no other major conference wants them.”
Alignment with a major conference means more money for KU and K-State athletics programs, better recruiting options, and the opportunity for automatic bids to play in Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games in the college football post season.
As recently as Thursday morning, K-State’s Athletic Director, John Currie, issued statements and letters to alumni saying he’s confident about the future of the Big 12.
“As you may be aware, last week’s Big 12 Conference meetings in Kansas City centered on potential conference realignment, which has caused a lot of conflicting media reports that typically are speculation built upon speculation built upon assumptions that may or may not be relevant or real,” he wrote to alums. “Such speculation can certainly be uncomfortable for some, but I’m very optimistic about our league and it continuing to prosper, grow and thrive.”
Most of the speculators, however, aren’t as hopeful.
When Big 12 Conference meetings in Kansas City ended last week with only nine of 12 schools pledging to remain loyal to the Big 12, the chatter increased.
First came speculation that the University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri were seeking to join the Big 10, which includes powerhouses the University of Michigan and the Ohio State University.
Orangebloods.com, a University of Texas sports fan publication, then reported that the Pac-10 conference, which includes University of Southern California (USC) and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) – had invited Texas and five other Big 12 schools to join its conference.
Jeff Stewart, Gardner Parks and Recreation Director, played baseball at K-State in the mid-1990s.
“It’s scary to think how fast this has unfolded publicly,” Stewart said. “I think it would be better for college sports if the Big 12 stayed in tact. I know it’s all about money and business decisions.”
Stewart, a die-hard Wildcat fan and K-State football season ticket holder, said he’s even feeling a little sorry for Jayhawk fans and the future of their storied basketball tradition.
“KU is historically a basketball school, and the decisions are obviously being made about football operations,” Stewart said. “That’s where all the money is.”
Wednesday afternoon, media outlets, including the Omaha World-Herald, were reporting that the Nebraska Board of Regents had informally decided to join the Big 10. Rumors on the web and unnamed sources in sports stories suggested that Texas would leave the Big 12 – taking five schools with it – if that was the case.
That put saving the Big 12 in Notre Dame’s court.
The South Bend, Ind., school currently is not affiliated with a major conference in football, in part, because Notre Dame has been able to secure television deals without joining one.
Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney has made no secret of his desire to add the Irish to the Big 10, and unnamed sources have suggested to a number of media outlets that if Notre Dame accepts an offer to join the Big 10, that conference’s expansion will end there.
That scenario would keep Nebraska in the Big 12, but Brian O’Conner, who grew up in Gardner and attended Notre Dame, said Irish fans are unlikely to support Notre Dame aligning with the Big 10 conference.
The conference has tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Notre Dame before.
“It was a big topic of conversation when I was a student from 1997-2001,” O’Connor said. “The Big 10 seemed to really want Notre Dame – at least that’s what ESPN wanted us to believe. I still have my ‘Big 10 bites’ t-shirt, because I was firmly in the camp that Notre Dame shouldn’t join the Big 10.”
The potential conference shakeup has KU and K-State, normally fierce rivals, working together to save the Big 12.
“That’s been our commitment and our plan, to the extent that it’s possible, that we would work together, that we would intend to be in the same conference and have the opportunity to play one another and continue a great tradition of rivalry,” Bernadette Gray-Little, KU’s Chancellor, told the Associated Press.
Stewart said he’s noticed a little more camaradie between Jayhawk and Wildcat fans in the last week.
“Everybody is holding their breath,” Stewart said. “I want to be optimistic about it.”
And now, the politicians are involved as well.
Sen. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts, both of Kansas, issued joint press releases earlier this week saying they’d been in contact with Nebraska officials in order to save the Big 12 and both Kansas schools’ inclusion in a major conference.
“In the last few days, I have spoken with the folks at K-State and KU, and I have talked with (Nebraska) Coach (Tom) Osborne, the governor of Nebraska, Nebraska regents and other friends from Nebraska,” Brownback said.
“Everyone in Kansas agrees that an intact Big 12 is the best option for everyone involved, and I have been able to convey that sentiment to our friends in Nebraska. We are hopeful that Nebraska and all other members of the Big 12 will stay home.”
Courtney Cale, Gardner Edgerton High School graduate and K-State student, said if the Big 12 dies, K-State’s campus will not be the same.
“I think we’d lose a lot of K-State morale,” Cale said. “Part of the competition is what drives your fans. I think everybody is freaking out about it.”