Kinder: Being close in proximity does not a rivalry make

By Joshua Kinder

You can’t blame conference realignment for this one. No, the poor state of the Sunflower Showdown falls squarely on the two schools involved. Kansas State and Kansas need to share this epic fail.

When I think of rivalries, I think Texas/Oklahoma, Nebraska/Oklahoma, Yankees/Red Sox, Alabama/LSU, Ohio State/Michigan, Ali/Frasier and Duke/North Carolina.

I don’t think KU/K-State.

Not anymore.

The Sunflower Showdown is simply a rivalry in name only these days — in football and basketball. K-State wins in the fall and KU wins (twice, sometimes three times) in the winter. It’s not even close in either sport.

There’s part of me that even wonders how big of a game it really is when these two schools meet? Do KU fans really care about the Jayhawks’ football game this weekend against K-State? Sure, they’ll say they do, but if the Wildcats are up big at halftime, it turns into a K-State home game in the second half. 

Having grown up in Kansas, I have friends from both sides. And frankly, all I hear from the K-State side is that it’s nice to have this game at the end of the season to pad the record. When the Wildcats were still chasing bowl eligibility, most figured, “Well, if we still need that sixth win, at least we get KU in the last game.”

My Jayhawk friends? Well, don’t you know, it’s basketball season already. They’ve moved on, and for good reason too. Judging by the awful crowds so far at K-State basketball games, it’s a safe bet Wildcat fans have moved on too and getting ready for their winter hibernation before football starts back up in the spring.

How does that make a rivalry? I know K-State has only won four straight against the Jayhawks in football. That’s not an eternity by any means. But the Wildcats are 17-7 in the series since 1989 — including a 17-4 record under Bill Snyder and 11 in a row from 1993-2003. Those three losses under Ron Prince don’t really count, right? Everyone around here pretends that little experiment never happened, so for the sake of this piece, I’ll play along.

That means three of Snyder’s four losses to the Jayhawks came in his first four years at K-State. Students at both schools weren’t even alive then, so those don’t really count either. With those losses erased, plus the three Prince had, that means K-State is basically 17-1 against KU in the last 20 or so years. That’s not competitive and that’s not a rivalry. It’s only a “rivalry” because everyone in this state has been raised to hate one or the other, or because the schools are 90 miles apart. That’s not enough.

All of this applies to basketball too. Sorry Wildcats, but its true. KU owns that series. It’s even more lopsided than what has taken place on the football field in the last 20 years and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon either.

It wasn’t always that way. From 1946-78, KU or K-State either won or shared the conference basketball title 26 times. But the Jayhawks have won 68 of the last 77 meetings between the “rival” schools since 1984. KU won 31 straight over the Wildcats from 1994-2005, and until 2007 the Jayhawks had won 24 in a row in Manhattan.

A rivalry? Hardly. Wins by KU in football and K-State in basketball in recent years don’t mean a lot because neither one was able to sustain it over a period of time. They were anomalies more than anything else. What’s that saying, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”

Rivalries are meant for games that could go either way, games that both sides (fans) go nuts about — like near hospitalization crazy. We’re talking real hatred.

Raise your hand if you know someone — could even be yourself — who says “I cheer for K-State during the football season and KU during the basketball season.”

Or how many of you know that person who says they’re a KU or a K-State fan who only roots against the other school when they’re playing each other? Because, after all, we’re all from Kansas, so we want to see everyone win.

No. Rivalries don’t work that way. You can’t be a rival on Monday and then not on Tuesday.

Authentic rivals should always want bad things to happen to the other school all the time. For example, K-State fans should have gotten a real kick of out of that ticket scandal a few years back in Lawrence or when KU fired Mark Mangino and hired Turner Gill. It goes the other way too. Jayhawk fans should have been laughing their you-know-whats off when everyone found out Prince got a super secret contract, or even a raise for that matter.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Saturday’s game is important to K-State, just like every game is to K-State. It will go a long way in deciding what bowl the Wildcats are headed to next month. But does KU coach Charlie Weis declaring this weekend’s game the Jayhawks’ bowl game really mean both teams are going to play harder than they would if they were playing TCU or even Oklahoma? No. Every team tries to win all the time. Nobody wants to lose, ever.

But until the Jayhawks get better in football or the Wildcats in basketball — consistently — the Sunflower Showdown is merely just another game, and a win depending on what colors you happen to wear. Nothing more.

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