Few glimpses into the psyche of the cartel could have been more revealing than the ESPN news story posted today on the (self-proclaimed) World Leader’s website. The story examined Kansas’s predicament, facing all of the expansion talk as a spectator, with the possible outcome being a retreat to the Mountain West. (The story didn’t name that conference specifically as a destination, but it made clear that this was the species of hell that the school was contemplating, with increasing sweat and seriousness.) “Kansas' status as a major player in college athletics has been placed in [jeopardy]. … strip Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State of the safety and privileges of membership in a Bowl Championship Series conference.” You know: one of those outsider conferences.
What would joining the Mountain West be like?
The story, which did not list an author, characterized it this way: “all this could not be more demeaning.” Such an outcome would mean that the “…the Jayhawks' great basketball tradition may not hold any more value than the tennis team.” Yes, if you’re located on the other side of college football’s tracks, your other sports are suddenly value-less. You know, like Memphis’s basketball team. Or Gonzaga’s, Villanova’s, George Mason’s... Oh, nevermind.
"It's driving me nuts," coach Bill Self was quoted in the story as saying Tuesday. How could it not? Your school might suddenly be thrown to the dogs—and have to carry water with the likes of New Mexico, BYU, San Diego State, and UNLV, or as the Mountain West quartet call themselves, basketball purgatory. Between the four of them, they racked up six credits in the 2010 NCAA tournament. And that wasn’t prelude to rebuilding years for those programs, either. It makes one wonder if Kansas is really worried about the high quality of competition in Mountain West basketball... but just can’t admit it.
The ESPN story quoted a Kansas co-ed, saying "This is just breaking my heart." Yes, honey, it ought to break your heart. You might spend (at most) a couple years as a non-BCS school. Clearly you haven’t paid attention, but the Mountain West is cruising toward auto-bid status in 2012, so at most, your fifth year at Kansas (don’t kid us; we know the averages) would be enjoyed from inside the cartel, again. Will your Jayhawk-little heart going to break then, for the other schools that are still outside the cartel? Somehow I doubt it.
But for a couple years, thanks to your cherished cartel (which charity apparently isn't requited), you could be, to quote the ESPN story, “fenced off from a major conference.” Funny, that fence hasn’t kept TCU, Utah, and Boise State out of the big games. Not that ESPN has given a rat’s behind about that fence. ESPN perpetrates it with gusto!
Your coach agrees that it’s a shame. "I can hardly believe that ...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... This is bad for us. It's really bad for Kansas and Kansas State both. ... I don't like it. To ... leave some schools out in the cold ... is a pretty tough pill to swallow."
Bad for you, coach? For Kansas State, too? Isn’t it likewise bad for Boise State, TCU, Utah, and every other rising program on the other side of the tracks that has to contend against the cartel for leftovers, after the big conferences have hogged 90-plus percent of the pie for themselves?
It’s about time you saw that light, Coach. But where were you when the other half of college sports was being raked over the same coals you’re now contemplating? I didn’t see you out there railing against the unfairness of it then. To think: a school that benefited from that unfairness might suddenly be a victim of it! How ghastly! Pass a Kleenex; the unfairness of it all makes me weep.
Another Kansas student chimed in, "At first, I thought all this was a joke, Kansas basketball has such a history. It's shocking that it isn't thought of at all in this." Well, a whole pile of history in the relevant sport (that’s football, for you Jayhawks) got TCU a death-penalty and a kick to the curb when the last major realignment in college football happened. Maybe turnabout’s fair play.
Or, and this ought to cheer you up a little, maybe the Mountain West is making history, and getting on that train ain’t as bad a place to be as you fear. In a couple years you’ll be back on the BCS gravy train (albeit not in a two-autobid conference, sadly).
Take heart in this, too-- the quality of football and basketball in the MWC is higher than you know. For years now, every team that has faced TCU for the first time has come away saying: they’re really fast, or talented, or have incredible athletes, or something just like that. After the losing season you’ll like endure to start, you’ll get used to it. And right about when you do, we’ll get an autobid, and you can spend New Year’s watching the MWC champ play in BCS bowls every year, like you already do. Of course, that champ won’t be Kansas, but you’re used to that already.