K-State and Kansas could be a top 10 rivalry in all of sports. The pieces are there: amazing tradition, obsessive fan bases and only 85 miles lie between the two universities. Unfortunately, there is just one big thing missing: competition. The Jayhawks and Wildcats might hate each other, but the yearly matchups on the football field and basketball court are far from a rivalry. Things have become too predictable. I’m no gambling man, but if I bet Kansas basketball and K-State football every game for the past decade, I’d probably have my own island. If we want the Sunflower Showdown to be anything more than just a pillow fight, then there must be a revival.
The history is certainly there. Dating back to 1907, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have faced off 278 times on the basketball court. To put that into perspective, North Carolina and Duke began competing in 1920 and have played 236 times.
Additionally, both K-State and Kansas have vacancies that they want to fill. The Jayhawks lost Missouri to the SEC, and they are looking to transfer their collegiate-hatred elsewhere. K-State lost Nebraska to the Big 10, and has been sitting idly by waiting for a new partner in crime. It’s like a match made in geography heaven. Unfortunately, things need to change before this “thing” actually becomes a rivalry. This historic matchup needs a rivalry revival.
Let me preface all of this with two disclaimers:
1. I understand that there are other sports and other athletes at both universities. However, a true rivalry stems almost entirely from the biggest revenue generating sports. This means that basketball and football are the driving forces behind most rivalries. Those two sports generate the most support, and demand the most media attention.
2) Kansas is 50 percent of the issue. The Jayhawks football program is a combination of curdled milk and athlete’s foot. It is horrible and, unfortunately for Kansas, head coach Bill Snyder can’t coach both teams. K-State isn’t going to lower the bar on the football field, so the Jayhawks needs to step it up … big time. I get that.
Without a doubt, K-State’s issue is on the basketball floor. There is no debate there. The Wildcats have to improve significantly if they want to go toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks. As most fans know, the last 30 years haven’t been great for the rivalry. Since 1984, K-State and Kansas have faced off 78 times on the hardwood. The Wildcats have gone 9-69 in those contests, which is a winning percentage of about 11 percent. While those numbers seem bleak, upon closer examination it gets even worse. In the past 35 games played between the two schools, the Jayhawks have won by an average of 13 points per game. That’s a staggering number for any annual matchup, let alone a “rival.”
I love the direction head coach Bruce Weber has his team headed. He has a young, talented group of players that look to be committed to staying four years in Manhattan. But you can’t ignore the fact that Weber is 0-4 in his career at K-State against the Jayhawks. I’m not calling for Weber’s job, but I am saying that he needs to begin producing sooner rather than later against Kansas. The only way to make this “thing” relevant is to win ball games. It is the only solution.
If we want a rivalry like Auburn and Alabama or UNC and Duke, it starts with the game itself. Auburn and Alabama just played a regular season football game that, for all intents and purposes, decided who went to the national championship. Obviously Auburn had to go on and beat Missouri, but Alabama would have done that too. That level of importance, coupled with the pure competitiveness of an Auburn versus Alabama football game, is the very reason that matchup is on the Mount Rushmore of collegiate rivalries. The games matter, and the outcome is a coin flip.
Unfortunately, with K-State and Kansas, we are miles away from that. It’s two schools that are enjoying great athletic success separated by a goal post and a backboard. It’s like two businessmen going in for a firm handshake after closing on a multi-million dollar deal, but then one guy switches to a fist bump and you end up with a weird turkey looking thing that makes both men feel awkward and out of place.
As a student, I want this to be a rivalry. I really do. In a way, rivalries are what built this country (Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton is the one that comes to mind). But without competitive games, this becomes nothing but two fan bases working to manifest something that really doesn’t exist. If K-State doesn’t begin beating Kansas, or at least begin making the games competitive, then this rivalry will never materialize. The outcome is predictable, and there is little to no allure. Is it a Sunflower Showdown? Sure, but that’s about as far as it goes. If Wildcat fans want a true rival, K-State must start beating the Jayhawks on the hardwood. Period.