Bill Self said all along he believed the Big 12 Conference could, and probably would, be saved.
“It’s not because I had a magic ball,” Self, Kansas University’s basketball coach, said Monday night.
He was speaking after the University of Texas announced plans to reject an offer to join the Pac-10 to remain in the Big 12 with the other South Division teams that had been poised to jump ship to the Pac-10.
“It’s what we hoped all along. We thought it was the best scenario for us, and everybody thought it was best for them (Longhorns) as well. I am excited about what’s being reported, and we’ll reserve any further comment until the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, which hopefully will take place tomorrow morning,” Self added.
Both Texas and the Big 12 will hold news conferences this morning to discuss the Longhorns’ decision to retain membership in the 15-year-old league.
Self has been the one KU figure most willing to comment publicly during this period of uncertainty. He several times has reassured KU fans that the Jayhawks would be OK no matter what transpired regarding conference realignments.
His preference, however, was for the Big 12 to stay intact.
If the league had to fold, he insisted KU would surface in a BCS Conference, whether it be the Pac-10, Big East or SEC.
“The KU brand is pretty good,” Self said. “You think about the success the basketball program has had over time. Wherever we play, we’ll win. I really believe that, but we like to be able to sell the same things we’ve been selling over time.”
KU recruiting could be bolstered even more if the Jayhawks, as expected, wind up playing all the Big 12 teams twice in coming seasons. KU and Texas have developed quite a rivalry in basketball. Prospects in fertile Texas certainly would be intrigued by traveling to Austin every season.
“You look at the Big 12 last year in basketball ... we were the No. 1 RPI league in the country, and this year we are likely to have three teams in the preseason top 15,” said Self, proud of what he can now continue to sell.
Overall, Self is happy for his student-athletes.
Trips to Pac-10 or Big East schools would have been demanding.
“The NCAA has made a bold statement the last 20 years, done a great job of promoting student-athlete welfare and class attendance,” Self said, “making sure we provide all the student-athletes the best of the best, give them the best chance to be educated and have the best experience they can possibly have. To me, crossing two time zones, missing extra days of class, I don’t see how that is student-athlete-friendly.”
KU’s basketball players are happy this is over and thrilled they can maintain rivalry games.
“Recruits look forward to playing against the K-States and Missouris. Those rivalry games are big,” senior Tyrel Reed said after being informed at Monday’s camp that the Big 12 was alive and well. “I’m excited. The Big 12 has been a great conference — the Big Eight before that.
“It’s been a great conference a long time,” Reed added.
Noted junior Tyshawn Taylor: “The rivalry games are what make college basketball fun. If that went away, it’d be bad.”
The Hoboken, N.J., native had heard reports KU might join the Big East.
“That would have been fun. I’d get to play against a lot of my friends that I played against when I was younger and get to play closer to home, but I like the Big 12,” Taylor said. “I like the teams. The conference is good and can be really good in the future.”
Sophomore Thomas Robinson said it took just one season to cherish games against KSU and MU.
“I’m happy the Big 12 is staying together,” Robinson said, “because there’s stuff we don’t want to miss out on like the rivalry games, so I’m happy about it. I’ve been here a year and have seen how much it means to the fans. I’ve seen the players take it to heart and the coaches.
“It means a lot. A lot of stuff has been going on with the league maybe breaking up. It’s been in the players’ heads. Now we just continue with our regular schedule.”
Self, who played for Oklahoma State in the former Big Eight, took part in the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State rivalry as a player and has embraced KU’s rivalry games that now will continue.
“When we play Texas, that became a rivalry game in basketball, but if you ask our players? The rivals are still K-State and Missouri,” Self said. “It (KU-UT) is a good game because of two good teams, good players and mutual respect. Great games, but the 15 years we played them did not take the place the 100 years we played the other ones. It’s always great to have that. When Kansas goes to Missouri and K-State, deep down at the core we want to play against each other, and that brings out good things. It’s good for our community and state.”
And now, thanks in large part to Texas, which could have taken a batch of South teams and maybe KU to the Pac-10, the rivalries figure to continue.