More Than Ever, KU Needs Lew Perkins

If you're on the "Fire Lew" bandwagon, I would certainly hope that this week's revelation that our beloved Kansas Jayhawks are about to become the football power of a four-team conference has moved you to reconsider.

Weeks ago, the Big 10 Conference floated the idea of taking Missouri (good riddance) and Nebraska from the Big 12 conference.

The Pac 10 Conference put things on the fast-track this week, however, when multiple sources refused to deny the increasingly credible rumor that they plan to steal the Big 12 South, minus Baylor, plus Colorado.

Now that the milk is spilled, the emasculated Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is trying to make people feel better by issuing an ultimatum to those two institutions to poop or get off the Bog 10 pot. I'm sure that's got Tom Osborne losing sleep. I'd also bet my car and house that the Texas schools – UT-Austin, in particular – won't get a similar edict.

With those eight teams leaving, we're left with Kansas, Kansas State and two other Big 12 schools no one really cares about to fend for themselves.

This is all about football. Everyone knows that. Football is the cash cow of college athletics, and you don't have to be Oklahoma or Alabama or Florida to know and enjoy that financial reality. Even back when KU stunk out loud in football, the program ran in the black and helped pay for several sports that couldn't do it on their own.

The Jayhawks have renovated Memorial Stadium, and a state-of-the-art football complex has gone up next door. That's great. The problem is, the friendly confines still only hold 50,071 people, and KU has little-to-no football cache. Sorry, folks, but just because you've played football a long time doesn't mean you have "tradition." It kills me to say that.

But no matter how bad you feel, you can always smile and say, "Well, at least I'm not a Kansas State fan." K-State's in an even bigger mess. Their stadium's even tinier. Granted, they did have that decade of really-goodness, but a burned-out coach Bill Snyder and an incompetent Ron Prince put a stop to that.

Snyder is back, tanned, rested and ready, and it looks like he's got Kansas State on the road to being a good team. They'll never duplicate what they did in the 90's, though. Unless, of course, the Jayhawks and Wildcats join the Missouri Valley.

And without strong, influential leadership, that may be where Kansas athletics are headed.

The last thing Kansas needs right now is an interim athletics director to try and bargain and navigate and, if necessary, shove Kansas' way into a new conference that doesn't think playing at midnight on ESPN is a privilege. Unless Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little's accelerated probe into alleged Perkins wrong-doings or ethical stumbling turns up something illegal – or at least something that makes you say, "Holy crap!" when you read about it – then you want Lew Perkins on that wall. You need Lew Perkins on that wall.

He's likely most polarizing figure in the history of Kansas athletics, but he's become so because he gets things done.

The football complex? That was his.

The basketball practice facility and Allen Field House renovations? Those were his. Of course, it didn't hurt that Bill Self walked into Perkins' office with a newspaper bearing the still-moist headline "KU national champs," urging his boss to move ahead with some promised changes. Nevertheless, Perkins still got it done.

Truth be told, Missouri deserved to go to the 2008 Orange Bowl, but they didn't. That was Perkins', too.

Record-setting fund raising. That's his. And anyone whining that there's no place for the little guy in Kansas athletics needs to grow up and smell the $8 coffee.

If you want to be a Division I-AA or Division II school, fine. The little guy rules in the land of 5,000 seat gyms and 25,000-seat stadiums. I can get Washburn or Pittsburg State tickets anytime I want. Hell, the little guy can walk up to the Baylor or Iowa State box office and get tickets 30 minutes before kick or tip. Whoop-dee-frickin'-doo. If you want to be the little guy, that's fine. Just be honest with yourself and adjust your expectations down five or six notches. And have fun being the little guy.

Fans – not just Kansas fans but all fans – get too emotionally involved to see past the reality of the staggering amount of money and power necessary to play the game today. Fans say they understand, but they don't.

Writing for t3h Phog, I've had the privilege of attending dozens of sporting events. Along with the fun of the actual games (I'm still replaying 76-39 in my head), I've gotten to "peek behind the curtain," as one colleague sometimes puts it.

What we see when we look behind the curtain is a bizarre, somewhat-forced combination of education (KU athletics pays tuition, books and living expenses for probably 500-plus students each year), entertainment industry and corporate America. Alumni bonfires and pep rallies are a wonderful part of the college sports experience, but when it comes to day-to-day operations, that stuff doesn't mean squat.

"Be true to your school" is a cheesy Beach Boys song and nothing else. There's an arms race to fight with schools like Texas and Nebraska, and no amount of hugs, handshakes and Jayhawk stickers from the alumni cookout will win it. This reality is a tough pill to swallow for those folks who don't understand why their annual $100 check to the Williams Fund – the same gift they've made since they liked Ike – doesn't get them seats at center court anymore.

One can pick at whatever shortcomings they want when it comes to Lew Perkins, but my glimpse behind the curtain has shown me one thing: Kansas athletes, coaches and the University always come first. He has raised the millions of dollars it takes to pay their bills and build them first-rate facilities. He makes sure they're decked out in the best uniforms and using the equipment available. He gives his head coaches the resources to hire the best assistants they can find. He has created a tight-knit family among the coaches across all sports. Most of all, however, he's willing to take the heat – and there's been plenty – to make sure it all happens.

I assure you, if you enjoy being in a high-profile athletic conference and the opportunities that membership affords – like shots at good bowl games and national championships – then you want Lew Perkins to stick around for the time being – at least until all this realignment garbage is over.

Kansas will end up absolutely popped in the shorts without him, and his road got even tougher when members of the Kansas Board of Regents went on record as saying they won't let KU go anywhere without their obnoxious little brother, Kansas State. Now he's got to save two schools' athletics departments in order to save his own. Great.

Unfortunately, my ample gut tells me that nothing good will come of having to convince conferences that they want Kansas State. Kansas State has less cache than Kansas. Their terrific run in football is nearly a decade gone now, and one year of elite eight and 29 wins in hoops doesn't make you sexy to anyone. Unless Perkins pulls off a miracle, I think the odds are even-money that dragging the Wildcats along will earn Kansas a one-way, non-stop ticket to the Mountain West Conference.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and the rest of the folks in Dallas bent over and shoved their heads in the sand months ago, hoping nothing bad would happen. The Big 12 could've gone out and tried to cherry-pick four or six other schools to come join. They didn't.

Meanwhile, the Big 10 and Pac 10, with all the stealth of a Sherman tank, started putting their best moves on everyone except KU, KSU, Iowa State and those extremely well-dressed folks from Waco.

Note: Ever been to a Baylor game? It looks like a Dockers commercial or maybe a Penney's pre-Easter sale commercial. I've never seen that many pairs of well-pressed khakis and that much well-coiffed hair in my entire life. Baylor fans are very attractive people. They're lousy dancers, and you can't find a beer to save your life, but still...

For whatever faults, real or perceived, that Lew Perkins has, he still carries a big stick among his peers and colleagues. He's KU's best chance – and, for that matter, K-State's – to realize a positive outcome now that Beebe and the Big 12 Conference administrators have been castrated. It falls to him to fix Beebe's lack of leadership, foresight and influence.

If you are a fan of Kansas athletics as we know it, these coming months are too important to turn over to a temp.

If you enjoy walking up to the ticket office 30 minutes before game time and getting good seats, fire away.

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