Kansas could be adrift without major conference

Kansas could be adrift without major conference

Published Jun. 8, 2010 10:33 p.m. ET

For the Kansas Jayhawks and their proud basketball heritage, all this could not be more demeaning.

All of a sudden, Kansas' status as a major player in college athletics has been placed in the hands of Nebraska and - humiliation of humiliations - archrival Missouri.

While those two decide whether to abandon the Big 12 for the more lucrative Big Ten, Kansas sits and sweats. A pullout by the Huskers and Tigers could result in the collapse of the Big 12 and strip Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State of the safety and privileges of membership in a Bowl Championship Series conference.

What about the Jayhawks' attractive basketball program, with three national championships, 53 conference titles and 147 consecutive home sellouts? Where conference expansion is concerned, it apparently counts for nothing. Expansion is all about football and television markets.


While the Huskers and Tigers ponder a move to the Big Ten, there are reports - not denied by the commissioner - that the Pac-10 may try to snatch away six other Big 12 schools.

If big-time college sports suddenly embarks on an eat-or-be-eaten explosion of expansion, the Jayhawks' great basketball tradition may not hold any more value than the tennis team.

``It's driving me nuts,'' coach Bill Self said Tuesday.

Melanie Rollins, a 19-year-old sophomore walking past historic Allen Fieldhouse on her way to class, added: ``This is just breaking my heart.''

Football's had its moments at the school where Wilt Chamberlain played and basketball inventor James Naismith coached. Nearly 40 years ago, Gale Sayers first flashed his classic moves in creaky old Memorial Stadium. Just two years ago, the Jayhawks upset Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl for their first victory in a BCS bowl.

But last year, Kansas ended the season on a long losing streak and fired the coach.

Now, a lack of football strength and a paucity of people in a sparsely populated state could leave Kansas and Kansas State both fenced off from a major conference.

``I can hardly believe that we've won three national championships and our football team won the Orange Bowl in the past two years and basically, we could come away with nothing to show for that, that we would be penalized because we live in an area that's not as populated as other areas,'' Self said.

``This is bad for us. It's really bad for Kansas and Kansas State both. I don't get it. Well, OK, I get it. But I don't like it.''

Kansas politicians are calling their counterparts in Nebraska and Missouri, urging them to pressure their schools to stay put. The presidents of Kansas and Kansas State are phoning CEOs at Nebraska and Missouri. Both football coaches at Kansas and Kansas State have contacted Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne to plead their case.

But as hundreds of youngsters gathered Tuesday for Self's popular basketball camp, the 2009 consensus national coach of the year sounded a warning for colleagues around the country.

``Football is driving the bus,'' Self said. ``There's no question. I'm sure the higher-ups would say it's an entire university situation, but I don't believe that to be the case at all. That's a piece of the equation. But the biggest piece is football.

``To actually change the whole scope of athletics and leave some schools out in the cold that have meant so much for the NCAA and for other institutions, to me, is a pretty tough pill to swallow.''

Kansas State president Kirk Schulz attended two days of meetings with other Big 12 executives last week and was disappointed that so little attention was given during expansion talk to the welfare of student-athletes.

``I have a strong concern that we've sort of lost sight of what it is that we're trying to do, with some of these conference realignments,'' Schulz said. ``That was not a strong point at the presidents' meeting.''

In the meantime, Kansas sits and stews, waiting for others to determine its fate.

``At first, I thought all this was a joke,'' said Allison Emmot, who graduated from Kansas a few weeks ago and counts basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse as one of the best parts of her college experience.

``Kansas basketball has such a history. It's shocking that it isn't thought of at all in this.''