THE BORDER WAR (NOT SHOWDOWN): ENDING AN ERA
I know what you’re thinking: How did Iowa State’s un-projected W at K-State move the REAL Standings needle in the fight for third place?
More on that later. First, let’s discuss the most amusing aspect of the KU/Mizzou game Saturday, which, by the way, went as projected.
How many pleas were there by professional (i.e., it’s the way they make their living) on-air commentators and writers for KU and Mizzou to keep playing after Mizzou bolts for the SEC? The twitternet was buzzing in 140 character increments about how it is a shame that the series is ending. Just swallow your pride, Bill Self, Sheahon Zenger, and continue to play Mizzou. Home and Home, neutral court, whatever.
Unfortunately, every comment I was aware of missed the point. Perhaps none as much as ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, who wrote:
"Don’t get me wrong. I get it. You’re angry. You feel jilted. You’re the teenage girl with the pretty party dress, the mani-pedi, updo and the date who ditched you for the rich girl in town.
"Why should you be the bigger university? Why should you fix the mess Missouri created by bolting to the SEC?
"All legitimate questions.
"I have another one: What do you gain by discontinuing this rivalry other than a hefty plate of spite?"
Sorry, Dana. You miss the point.
But she is not alone. Even the normally clear-thinking Joe Posnanski, writes, “You can’t REALly blame Kansas for feeling betrayed.” (Okay, a little bit of emphasis was added.) While, at the same time, saying, “You can’t blame Missouri for jumping into a great conference like the SEC.”
Actually, you can. Being an outsider, a stranger in a strange land, with no rival to provide them with an identity, their athletic program will be less relevant in the SEC than it has been in the Big 12. If that’s possible, considering that Mizzou is the only Big 12 school to have never won a Big 12 championship in any sport involve the male of the species. Which raises the question: Is there any other school in any conference that has gone from 1997-2012 without a conference championship in anything?
What I haven’t read or heard from Dana, from Joe, from any of these talking heads and typing fingers is the following:
What’s in it for KU? Setting emotions aside, which we, apparently, cannot blame Mizzou for doing, how does KU benefit, practically or financially, by playing Mizzou in a non-conference game?
It is clear how Mizzou benefits. Its stature in the college basketball world, such as it is, stems in large part from being an elite team’s rival. It is kinda like North Carolina St to UNC, only without the Final Fours and National Championships that validate NCSU’s status as a program of substance in its own right. Mizzou is Auburn to Alabama pre-Cam Newton.
Mizzou benefits by being KU’s rival. As might be expected at a school whose primary focus is not on what it has accomplished, because it hasn’t. It openly, often brazenly, lives vicariously, year after year, through KU defeats at the hands of others--especially in the NCAA tournament, raiding the tee-shirt racks of Bucknell, Bradley, VCU and the like in those years when the Jayhawks fall short of the National Championship, as all but one of 341 or so teams do every year.
The situation is so bad that high profile Mizzou alums who claim to be professional journalists at places like ESPN show up at Mizzou games sporting Bucknell tee-shirts.
The situation is so sad, that one of Mizzou’s current players (who seems like a fine fellow, so I won’t identify him here) was quoted prior to the game in Columbia as saying that the season would be successful if they lost every other game, but beat KU.
But back to the point: How does KU benefit by playing Mizzou in a non-conference game as opposed to playing Michigan St, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA, Illinois, Oregon and the like, in areas where there might be potential 4 or 5 star recruits to impress? Recruits capable of bringing more conference and National Championship banners to the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. It is not as if KU needs more exposure in the Kansas City area, less than an hour’s drive from Lawrence. Why would KU deliberately aid Mizzou’s fan base and recruiting exposure in a predominantly KU town, when not required to do so by conference affiliation?
Doing so would almost constitute coaching or A.D.-ing malpractice.
Big name teams aside, why would it benefit KU to play Mizzou Home and Home or on a neutral court when it could play, say, Idaho St in a guarantee game before a packed house in Lawrence?
Now, there’s an idea. If Mizzou is willing to play in Lawrence and only in Lawrence for a guaranteed payday. . .
It is the talking heads who are acting out on emotion. They see two tremendous basketball games and a fight for a conference championship in the final year the two programs are in the same conference and, apparently, believe that this is the norm.
It’s not. The norm is KU fighting for a conference championship against some team not named Mizzou: e.g., Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Iowa St. The 16th year of the Big 12, a conference in which KU has now won nine outright titles (probably) and shared three, is the first year that the Jayhawks’ primary competition has been from the state of Missouri. Maybe the Mayans are right.
Might well be 2032 before Mizzou were a factor again.
Nor is it the norm for the two teams to play a pair of compelling games in a single year. As Mr. Posnanski points out:
"The games weren’t always close. In Lawrence, to be honest, they were almost never close. Kansas won by 32 in 2002, by 33 in 2006, by double digits 12 times since 1995. It was usually more entertaining and tense in Columbia."
In other words, just another Big 12 opponent.
Except for the animosity.
And that’s what it comes down to. Keep playing each other from separate conferences because the animosity makes the games special, notwithstanding the fact that the games are not, as a rule, special. Notwithstanding the fact that the all time series is 172-95; that KU is 25-10 in Big 12 play; that Bill Self at KU is 15-4; that Mizzou has not won in Allen Fieldhouse since 1999.
In other words, just another Big 12 opponent.
Except for the animosity.
Mizzou decided to leave a situation in which it had two guaranteed games, one at Home, each year, with the school that gives it its identity. They did it for practical reasons. For financial reasons.
If there is a practical or financial benefit to KU in continuing to play them, someone needs to state what it is. Because hate is not enough. It is, in fact, a reason many KU fans will not be sorry to see the series come to an end.
There is an old story about a man who had two sons. One joined the SEC. The other became vice-president of the United States. Neither was ever heard from again.
As a practical matter, as a financial matter, why should KU not simply let Mizzou slip away into oblivion, likely to never be heard from again, like its near-namesake, Ole Miss?
KUdos to Mizzou’s team. They are, this year at least, a worthy opponent. There have not been many gutsier performances by the opposition in Allen Fieldhouse over the years.
The two games were split, as they should have been, but KU probably should have held onto an eight point lead late in Columbia, and Mizzou probably should have held on to a 19 point lead Saturday.
Not a coincidence that that Home team came back in an improbable situation both times.
If Mizzou fielded teams like this one on a regular basis, I could understand the angst about the series coming to an end.
Now that Mizzou has actually experienced its projected loss in Lawrence, the newspaper standings reflect what REAL Standings followers have known since Tuesday, when K-State took the Tigers down in Columbia: KU has a two game cushion in its quest for its eighth consecutive conference championship—and, barring a collapse of Mayan proportions, six of them outright.
ISU picked up a full game in the RS, pulling to within one game of Baylor—a game the Cyclones can make up next Saturday when they host the Bears in Hilton Coliseum. A little dash of Abracadabra, Shazam, Robin Williams, and Harry Potter, and the Cyclones grab the 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament—which would drop Baylor to No. 4 and in line to play K-State on Thursday for the honor of taking on KU (probably) on Friday.
In action that affected the REAL Standings not a whit, Projected Winners prevailed: KU, Baylor, and Okie St protected their Home Courts against Mizzou, OU, and A&M respectively; while UT won as projected on the Road at Tech. See March Madness Odds here and current Big 12 newspaper standings here, as if they mattered.
Tier 1: KU, Mizzou
Tier 1A: Baylor
Tier 2: Iowa St, K-State, Texas
Tier 3: Oklahoma, Okie St, Texas A&M
Tier 4: Texas Tech
REAL BIG 12 STANDINGS
KU (14-2) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: N/A
Mizzou (12-4) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: N/A
Baylor (11-5) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: at ISU
Iowa St (11-5) Projected L’s: at Mizzou At Risk games: vs. Baylor
K-State (8-8) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: at A&M
Texas (8-8) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: N/A
Okie St (7-9) Projected L’s: vs. KU, at K-State At Risk games: N/A
Oklahoma (4-12) Projected L’s: at Texas At Risk games: N/A
Texas A&M (4-12) Projected L’s: at OU At Risk games: vs. K-State
Texas Tech (1-15) Projected L’s: at Baylor, vs. Mizzou At Risk games: N/A
ON THE TUBE
KU at Okie State**** (8:00p.m.—ESPN) (Projected W: KU)
How KU can have anything remaining in its emotional reservoir two days later is beyond me. Senior night for Keiton Page. He and Okie St will be fired up playing the eight time Big 12 Champion and Top 5 team. Despite the RS Projection, I will be mildly (and pleasantly) surprised if the Jayhawks have the energy needed to pull this one out.
Texas Tech at Baylor* (8:00p.m.—ESPNU) (Projected W: Baylor)
How nice for Baylor to have a bye the last week of the season.
K-State at Texas A&M*** (6:00p.m—ESPN2) (At-risk game)
K-State tries to go 4-0 against the SEC.
Iowa St at Mizzou**** (7:00p.m—Big Twe Network) (Projected W: Mizzou)
At least Mizzou has four days to regroup. If they don’t bring their A game, they will be staring directly into the abyss of a three game losing streak.
Oklahoma at Texas***(8:00p.m.—ESPN2) (Projected W: UT)
If UT wants an invite to March Madness, the team that beat Tech in Overtime has to beat the team that Tech beat in regulation.