We’ve had our share of discussions on college expansion on The Sports Debates over the past couple of weeks. And you’ve probably had the same discussions with your friends and colleagues. With the exception of the upcoming free agency period in the NBA, I’d say that expansion in college football has been the most popular topic amongst sports fans in the past six weeks. There are definitely some winners and losers from the overall lack of movement. Today, arguing what conference, or team, is the biggest winner from this round of expansion in college football. Kansas Jayhawks, enter stage left.
It’s safe to say that Lawrence, Kansas isn’t exactly a top TV market. It’ll never be confused with the New York or Los Angeles market. But Kansas isn’t exactly Wake Forest when it comes to student enrollment. This past spring the overall enrollment in Lawrence was 28,414. That figure tells me that there are more than enough sports fans to adequately support the Jayhawks. Yet, if Texas had gone to the Pac-10, as had long been suspected, possibly four other teams would have followed suit. That would have led to the disappearance of the Big XII conference as we know it, and schools like Kansas would have been looking for a new conference.
Kansas football isn’t enriched in tradition like some of the other Big XII schools. But don’t forget that back in 2007 the Jayhawks, led by since-ousted head coach Mark Mangino, went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. The team finished that season ranked seventh in both polls. And, where Kansas really poses a threat in sports is obviously in college basketball.
The Kansas Jayhawks basketball program is one of the premier programs in college basketball, and has been for some time. Over the past twenty years the Jayhawks are the winningest program in college basketball. The program’s last three coaches have been Larry Brown (one of the many coaching jobs he has held), Roy Williams, and Bill Self. Those are three outstanding coaches, and I even wrote an argument in favor Bill Self earlier this year. Quite simply, the Jayhawks are Big XII basketball. If Kansas wasn’t going to be part of a BCS conference, then it would have forced to join a conference like the Mountain West. That certainly would have been a big find for the MWC, but that would have been a horrible fit for the Jayhawks – especially in basketball. The Jayhawks would essentially have been in the same position the Memphis Tigers were when competing for a national championship under John Calipari. Remember all the cries we heard from Memphis, that they deserved to be a number one seed due to their domination of Conference USA en route to an impressive record? And remember all the comments about how Memphis played a bunch of cupcakes in conference? I remember because I was one of those saying they didn’t play anyone. That’s the same predicament Kansas would have been in, and that would not have been fair. The Kansas Jayhawks are better than that.
Luckily for the Rock Chalk Jayhawk nation, expansion essentially ended up being a non-issue, and Kansas was able to stay in the Big XII. That makes them the real winner of this round of expansion talks, because Kansas had the most to lose.