- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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We just got done dissecting Missouri's decision to officially pursue its conference expansion options. The move could put the Big 12 in jeopardy, or at least force it to be more aggressive in its own expansion efforts. Its greatest effect could be on teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and the like -- schools that desperately need that revenue-sharing agreement to hold up, desperately need Texas and Oklahoma to stay put, desperately need to keep the Big 12 together to avoid scrambling for a spot at a less-sensible table.
Needless to say, Missouri's move did not make Kansas coach Bill Self happy. Late Tuesday night, Self told the Lawrence Journal-World that if Missouri goes through with a move to the SEC, he would probably decline to schedule Missouri in a non-conference game each season. That move would effectively kill the Border War (or Border Showdown, if you prefer an anesthetized and politically correct terminology) rivalry -- one of the and mostly deep historic and heated rivalries in college hoops. To wit:
“To me it’s a great rivalry, one of the best in college basketball without question, but I don’t think I would be interested in having a once a year game like I did when I was at Illinois, playing Missouri,” Self told the Journal-World on Tuesday night. [...] “If they choose to be somewhere other than with us and with the other schools that they’ve been a part of and could jeopardize the future of the other schools ... I’m not going to make a commitment now that we’d ever play again. I’m not saying we won’t. I’m certainly not going to pretend that we would.”
The Journal-World suggested to Self that fans, and therefore the media, would clamor for a continuation of the classic series. His answer? I don't care:
“I’m not saying it would be bad or won’t be bad (playing once on neutral court). I will say this ... the media is not going to dictate who we play. I’ll dictate who we play as long as I’m coaching here,” Self said. “I have no ill will toward Missouri at all, but to do something at a time that could be so damaging and hurtful to a group, I can’t see us just taking it and forgetting."
It's hard to disagree. Missouri's self-interested move, whatever the reasons and motivations behind it -- and you can argue those motivations are understandable even if you think Mizzou is biting off a bit more than it can chew -- puts Kansas, perhaps more than any other school, in jeopardy. The Jayhawks don't have many outs. They're a basketball-first school that has failed to attract any expansion interest from the Big Ten or SEC; for a while there, we were wondering whether Kansas would have to join the Mountain West. Why would Self not want to punish Missouri for indirectly putting his program in that position? Why wouldn't he prefer to see Missouri hoops languish in the SEC? At the very least, he's not going to say everything will be hunky-dory -- oh, go ahead, Missouri, best of luck, and see you at the Border Showdown in 2012!
No, Self is making clear that there are sacrifices to leaving your league. One of them is traditional regional rivalries. If Missouri is OK with that, then that's its prerogative. But if the Tigers prefer the SEC to the Big 12 for financial reasons, they shouldn't be shocked when their old mates decide they'd rather not speak anymore. That's just part of the bargain.
And this is why we complain about conference realignment. Since 1907, Missouri and Kansas have engaged in an uninterrupted rivalry. The matchup has been a reflection of long-standing regional animosity, the kind that inspires small towns to write letters -- in 2011, mind you -- complaining about the "offensive" use of the term "Jayhawk." I mean, it is (was) called the Border War. You don't have to be a Kansas or Missouri fan to appreciate this kind of rivalry.
Then conference realignment comes along, and Missouri decides its centuries-old rivalries with hated neighbor schools aren't worth as much as an invitation to a league with which it has no historic, geographic or competitive relationship. Why? More money.
Rivalries make college hoops great. Realignment makes rivalries obsolete. Whining about conference realignment is played out, but if you want to know why the whine-fest continues, look no further.