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
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
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
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
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
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.
More Than Ever, KU Needs Lew Perkins
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