Archive for Saturday, September 11, 2004

Fans will have to settle for KU being ‘basketball school’ … for now

September 11, 2004


One of the saddest aspects of the age we live in is how so many people wander around scouring for reasons to feel bruised. Whence comes this pathetic penchant for victimization when there are so many better things in life?

Guess too many people were enchanted by those Olympic Games promos, you know, "I came from an ash heap, my daddy left, my mommy died when I was 10 and then I overcame cancer, heart disease, AIDS, the summer rash and belly-button lint to win a gold medal. I'm a damn jewel!"

My premise here is the periodic whining that Kansas frequently is referred to as a "basketball school." Like it or lump it, right now that's what KU is, while Kansas State is "the football school" in the state.

Bill Self wants to hold the line on the court, and Mark Mangino wants to elevate football at least to the K-State level. For now, "That's the trooth," as that Lily Tomlin brat snorts. So enjoy the court eminence and hope for better on the gridiron.

Last week, the KU athletic department made arrangements to televise a Jayhawk basketball game from up north via the big screen in Memorial Stadium. That way, folks who bought stadium tickets could watch a touted KU basketball crew perform against live bait ahead of the Kansas-Tulsa football game. I thought it was a terrific promotion that would satisfy scads of Jayhawk-lovers in a lot of ways.

Next thing you know, some people were harpooning KU for "demeaning" the football team by showcasing basketball -- when football is in season and the basketeers don't officially open practice until Oct. 15. There were such comments as, "Here we are trying to get football moving toward another good season and they run in a reminder that we're mainly a basketball school."

Man, you need a pretty myopic outlook and perhaps even a sour stomach to buy that bill of goods. If you didn't want to see basketball, and many did, you could wait for football. If you preferred football, show up for KU-Tulsa, which some 40,000 did.

It's been a long time, but once Kansas University was considered the Sunflower State football power, regularly beating KSU like a cake mix, while Kansas State under Jack Gardner emerged as a notable basketball venue. Wildcat fans will bristle, but there have been notable seasons when KU was boffo in BOTH football and basketball; K-State has never enjoyed anything like that.

Jim Woodridge is trying to build a basketball team that Snyder's gridders can be proud of, and Mangino is battling to get Kansas to the point it's a Big 12 Conference contender good enough to -- gasp! -- beat KSU and Missouri in the same season.

Mangino wants his football program to become as productive and lucrative as Self's basketball powerhouse. No matter what anyone says, it can be done. Schools like Michigan, Ohio State, UCLA and, in the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma have made it, not always, but enough. While UCLA with its 11 NCAA titles might be considered a "basketball school," it's had some nifty football seasons. Michigan, Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma? Well, you don't think basketball, but they've been strong at times in both sports.

It's no wonder that KU with the flamboyant Phog Allen became a basketball icon. In the decade of 1931-40, KU won seven Big Six championships, tied for another and played in the NCAA title game of 1940. In football, Bill Hargiss's 1930 team went 6-2 to win a rare league title. KU with Ad Lindsey as the kingpin was 5-3 in 1932, then Lindsey posted a 5-4 mark in 1933. KU didn't have another winning season until a 7-2-1 record in 1946. The Jayhawks and Wildcats floundered mutually most of those years.

The finest two-sport period for Kansas was 1950-51, 1951-52 and 1952-53. Coach J.V. Sikes's footballers were 21-9 in that period, and all three clubs would be in bowl games under today's rules. Phog's basketeers ran the table with a 63-17 record that included 1952 NCAA and Olympic titles and an NCAA title loss to Indiana by a single point in 1953.

The Kansas football teams of 1950-52 were terrific against some potent opponents. The '52 team would have gone 9-1 if injuries hadn't claimed halfback Charlie Hoag and quarterback/defensive back Gil Reich at key junctures. Enthusiasm then was so high that for all the basketball accomplishments, people also were nuts about football.

Pardon the gig, but KU was 21-9 in football for 1950-52 while Kansas State was 2-27-1. It would be 36 frustrating years until Bill Snyder got to Manhattan. For the record, Kansas still leads 61-36-5 in the series. Trouble is, how long before KU notches No. 62?

Kansas had a 36-20-3 football record under Jack Mitchell from 1959 through 1964 while basketball in the final five years of Dick Harp's tenure and the first year of Ted Owens's was 85-68. Not too bad a double.

Larry Brown rejuvenated KU basketball from the 1984 through 1988 seasons, and Larry and Danny Manning put together a 135-44 mark with a national title. Bad news, football was 19-35-1 under Mike Gottfried and Bob Valesente in that span.

Kansas football under Glen Mason was 14-9 in '91 and '92, and Roy Williams's cagers went 56-12. Then there was 1995-96 when Mason's '95 team went 10-2 and Williams's guys were 29-5. But just another two-way blip.

Over the years, Kansas has had some of the finest football players the college ranks ever have seen -- but seldom enough of them at one sitting. It's understandable if people consider Jayhawkland a basketball Valhalla and a football wasteland. It hasn't always been that way, and every effort is being made to change that to a winning co-existence. Massive mountain to climb, with money the main crutch.

Again, just think how pathetic Kansas State was on the gridiron for so long. KSU once was featured in Sports Illustrated as the worst major college program in history. But that was B.S. (Before Snyder). Even experts scratch their heads about how he's done what he has; at the same time, Kansas faithful should realize they can do likewise.

Yet for now KU, is ticketed to be "the basketball school" and Kansas State "a football factory." Here's to the day the two schools clash regularly to decide Big 12 titles in both sports. May that time hasten its presence.

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