O'Neil: KU's Self hopeful but frustrated

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
12:49
AM ET
Nebraska might go to the Big Ten.

The Big 12 could fold.

The Pac 10-may expand its girth to Pac-16.

The Big East stands ready for a raid.

Nothing in college athletics is certain right now. Except this: College basketball is clearly the ugly stepchild.

The decisions being made in the ivory towers of presidents’ offices and conference commissioners’ meeting rooms are driven solely by the promise of a potential pigskin-inspired financial windfall.

Nowhere is that more evident than at 1651 Naismith Drive, where Kansas has gone from storied, tradition-laden program of lore to afterthought.

If the rumored Pac-16 models are to be believed, the University of Kansas could soon be a sports vagabond, left searching for a new conference home to cobble together.

The Jayhawks would have plenty of company but that Kansas -- Kansas -- is hanging by a thread tells you just how much of an ugly stepchild basketball has become in this process.

“We play on Naismith Drive; the father of coaching [Phog Allen] was our second coach; Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith went to school here; the most dominant player in the game in Wilt went to school here,’’ KU head coach Bill Self said. “And it’s not like we haven’t lived up to it lately. … But here we are potentially trying to find a home? I don’t get that.’’

Self isn’t na´ve and he isn’t stupid. He understands big business. He knows football can produce revenue that basketball can never match. Monopoly-money TV contracts and the simple size of the arenas the two sports play in conspire to make hoops a pauper compared to the pigskin.

Two years ago, Kansas won the Orange Bowl but on a scale of one to Texas, the gridiron Jayhawks don’t measure up and that’s all anyone cares about right now.

That’s the part that Self can’t get his arms around -- that an entire university, well beyond the scope of its athletics department, can be redirected based on the potential financial success of one sport.

“Yeah I’m frustrated,’’ he said. “In the end, we’re going to have a home and who knows, it could be even better for us, but there’s a lot of concern. This doesn’t just affect us. This is about alumni, the state, giving, a fan base. The entire landscape of our university is going to change potentially for the next 35 to 50 years. Whether we believe we can compete at a very high level or not, that decision is being made for us.’’

The long-term effects for a program like Kansas are impossible to predict. There are too many variables, rumors and possibilities to factor into any sort of predictive matrix.

In the very short term, however, Self knows exactly what’s coming.

In two weeks he and his staff will hit the recruiting road, where KU goes toe-to-toe with the big dogs for the biggest prizes.

Kids will have questions, parents will have questions and competing programs will giddily supply information.

Or more, misinformation.

“Hey, it’s cutthroat on a good day,’’ he said. “This will only make it worse.’’

Kansas is still Kansas. Kids will want to come regardless of the league it is in. But Self also knows that as long as his program is blowing in the wind, he’ll have to pitch a harder sell.

Still, he believes -- or is it hopes? -- that in the end, Kansas will land on its feet. He points to Memphis’ ability to sustain a nationally prominent basketball program in what is considered a second-tier conference as proof that nothing has to change here.

He also believes -- or is it hopes? -- that football’s castaways might roll into a pretty formidable basketball-driven league.

And he holds out hope that all this hand-wringing could be premature.

Nothing is settled.

But as he sits in an office in a building practically breathing with basketball history, he knows one thing: He’s tired of people telling him what to do.

“Look we have to be proactive,’’ Self said. “We’ve got to fight and get people involved. Up to about two weeks ago, it was ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, this might happen and it would probably be bad.’ Now it’s, 'Oh my gosh, this changes the university in ways that we never anticipated.' So we can’t sit here and wait for someone to dictate our future.’’

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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