Taking down that 1 team: Why rivalry games matter

Senior forward Justin Edwards attempts to put a shot past Kansas forward Cheick Diallo in the first half of the Wildcats' 49-77 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the first leg of the Sunflower Showdown on Feb. 3, 2016, inside Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)(Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Whenever K-State threatens to have a good basketball season, fans of the red and blue team from up the river try to pitch me the idea that the only thing that truly matters is what your team can do in March when it’s tournament time and everyone’s record resets.

It’s not their fault. This just seems to be the state of college basketball these days. Millions of dollars are funneled into these programs in order to attract top-tier athletes. Players destined to become household names will spend about a year playing for a team before accepting a huge payout to play in the NBA.

College basketball is essentially just a giant stage for big-time superstars to build a “hoops mixtape,” while Dick Vitale rants in his color commentary in the background.

“He’s awesome, baby!”

The world has forgotten the true meaning behind “the college experience.” The fight songs, the chants and the mascots are just part of the act. The name on the back of the jersey is worth more than the name on the front. College basketball has gone commercial.

How easily we forget the rich traditions rooted in each program, from absolute silence until the 10th point of the game is scored, to Kentucky fans’ continued hatred of Christian Laettner, to showers of newspaper confetti and finally to the greatest tradition in all of sports: the rivalry game.

If every team theoretically enters the post season with a 0-0 record, then the same goes for teams entering a rivalry game. All bets are off. The only name on the jersey that matters is the one on the front.

The atmosphere inside a coliseum or field house changes on the day of a rivalry game. The intensity is high even before the students — many of whom have camped out days before the game — start to fill the stands. The noise of the crowd isn’t just loud, it’s a roar. While the students in the student section may be confined to their seats, their enthusiasm and vocal support are clear signs they have the players’ backs.

Rivalry games aren’t about the money or building a player’s personal portfolio. They are about a group of 18- to 22-year-old athletes (with the possible exception of KU’s Perry Ellis) trying to gain the advantage over a team that isn’t so popular in the eyes of the school they attend.

The players dutifully rise to the occasion. Last season’s win for K-State over the Jayhawks is a solid argument for that point. The 2014-15 basketball season may have been a train wreck for K-State most of the time… but at least they beat KU. That calls for a court-storming celebration.

While a new policy might keep students off the hardwood for the time being, do not take this rivalry game for granted. As programs start to bounce around to different conferences, many of the greatest rivalries in basketball are no longer on the schedule. Kentucky versus Indiana, Syracuse versus Georgetown and Kansas versus Missouri are matchups of historical proportion that just don’t happen anymore.

While this season’s matchup between K-State and KU won’t get the national attention Duke versus North Carolina will, the Sunflower Showdown will be a rivalry game plenty of people will be talking about, possibly soon, when both teams are stacked with experienced players.

To the 124 students who qualified for tier-one entry into Saturday’s game, soak it up. As a feud much older than my memory can comprehend tips off, college basketball will become wholesome once again.