28 November 2011

Kansas Is To Blame

A subjective look at why Kansas ended the rivalry
by Mizzou Matt
The Border War. First played on the gridiron on Halloween of 1891, but it stretches farther back into history than that. It goes back to the 1850s and throughout the Civil War when Kansas senator Colonel Nathan Lane burned and sacked multiple Missouri towns. Quantrill retaliated, burning and sacking Lawrence. That's where the hatred started, and on November 26th, 2011, the bloodshed came to an abrupt end. Historians point out, however, that the two sides put their weapons down following the Civil War to work together on the Transcontinental Railroad. Don't let that fool you, the hate was still there. Not even 30 years after the end of the war, the two sides waged war on each other again.

The rivalry was of little interest until 1911, when Mizzou chancellor Chester Brewer called for the Tiger alumni to "come home" for the final game against Kansas. Interest dwindled after that until 1960, when Kansas beat Mizzou 23-7, ending the Tigers' hopes for a national title. Jayhawk player Bert Coan was later deemed ineligible by the Big 8 in a 5-3 vote, and the conference forfeited the win to Missouri. The controversy spilled over to the hardwood in the 1961 meeting that became known as the "Basketbrawl." Up until about 20 years ago, the rivalry's importance dwindled again until the "Border War" name was conceived. It took fans back to the time when the hatred was still fresh. After the 9/11 attacks, the name was changed to the Border Showdown, and in 2002-03, the M&I Bank Border Showdown Series was adopted. All of the work that went in to building one of the fiercest rivalries in all of college sports went away in one foul tweet.

Ah, Twitter, such a powerful tool.

The University of Kansas, long time hater of Mizzou athletics, expressed a disdain for the Tigers' exit to the Southeastern Conference. Missouri athletic director Mike Alden extended an interest in keeping the rivalry alive with KU, but Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self stated that if Missouri were to leave, Kansas would have no part in any sport against them. The Kansas Athletics Facebook and Twitter accounts posted: "Missouri forfeits century-old rivalry. We win."

So let's take a look at who really are the winners here. In football, Missouri controls the series at 57-54-9* (though hotly contested), but basketball is another tale, with Kansas leading 171-94 entering the 2011 season. The Tigers dominate the baseball portion of the series, 212-123-2* (again, contested). In the overall Border Showdown Series, with a trophy given to the school with the better overall athletic performance throughout the year, Missouri has a commanding 7-2 lead, including winning the Border Showdown trophy every year since 2006-07.

But why end one of the more storied rivalries in all of college sports? Easy. The fans. The Kansas fans have grown wary of being a one-trick pony. How many times have Mizzou fans heard "Wait until basketball!"? Too many to count. They have the Tigers in basketball, no doubt about it, but all other sports, it's all about Mizzou. The past couple years under Turner Gill were hard on the Jayhawk football team, going just 5-19. They couldn't even give tickets away to home football matches. Their fans have turned a cold shoulder to the rivalry, despite it's climax in 2007 when Missouri was ranked 4th and Kansas 2nd. The game ended with Missouri on top of Kansas 36-28 and on top of the AP Poll for the first time since 1960. Over 80,000 fans packed Arrowhead Stadium to watch Todd Reesing pull a chunk of turf out of his facemask.

Is it Mizzou's fault for ending the rivalry? Kansas will of course say yes, but let's look at the timeline of events, starting in 2009: Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe grants Texas their own TV network, in association with ESPN. New TV rights with Fox/ESPN are struck, but any money from the Longhorn Network goes directly to Texas. This upset the rest of the conference. In 2010, Missouri was rumored to be talking with the Big Ten regarding conference affiliation. Nebraska joined in the talks and was eventually picked to be the league's 12th team starting in 2011. Kansas was no where to be found. In 2011, Missouri rose back to the top of the rumor mill with reported talks with the SEC. Texas A&M was the first to go, with Missouri following suit on November 6th. Again, Kansas wasn't a blip on the radar screen...for good reason.

While they may have more basketball conference championships and national titles than Missouri, they also carry a darker, more sinister stat: the Jayhawks have more NCAA tournament losses to mid-major schools like Northern Iowa and Virginia Commonwealth than they do national championship banners. They've become choke artists during March Madness, entering as a 1- or 2-seed, but failing to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. The football team hasn't been one of relevance since the 2007 season when they received a bid to the FedEx Orange Bowl.
Their soccer team collapsed in 2011 against Missouri, leading 2-0 and giving up three goals in the final six minutes to lose 3-2. The baseball team has had their moments, but on April 16, 2011, they gave up a 2-0 lead to a Blake Brown single and lost 3-2. The overall theme here is simple: Missouri has dominated in just about every sport other than basketball.

It's pretty obvious that Kansas was feeling left out of the realignment talks. They had the entitlement mentality that they deserve to be in a stronger conference based on their basketball program alone. When Missouri was chosen without even so much as a look in their direction, the Jayhawks picked up their toys and left the playground pouting. They had enough of being the punching bag. Missouri had metaphorically peed in their Corn Flakes for the last time.

When the announcement was made that Missouri was leaving and that Alden wanted to continue the rivalry as non-conference opponents, eyebrows were raised. It could have been, should have been the saving moment of the Showdown, but it wasn't. Kansas still tweeted the above tweet, and Missouri fans ran with it. Signs at the 2011 Border Showdown in Kansas City read "Keep rivalry alive!" and "Kansas forfeits century old rivalry, Missouri wins. #beakertrash". The hatred is still there. The hatred will always be there. Expect that when College Basketball GameDay comes to Mizzou Arena for the MU-KU Border Showdown on February 4th, the signs by both sides probably won't pull any punches. Kansas is the team Missourians love to hate, it's just that the hatred will have to be placed on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

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