The Hatfields and McCoys made for a great story, but they didn’t make for a great neighborhood. It is a thought worth remembering as the University of Kansas resumes its athletic rivalry with the University of Missouri.
KU last week announced the creation of a six-game basketball series between KU and MU that will run from the 2020-21 to the 2024-25 seasons. The longtime, bitter rivalry came to an end in 2012 when Missouri left the Big 12 Conference to join the SEC. KU, at that time, said it had no interest in playing Mizzou again, given that its defection put the entire Big 12 Conference in jeopardy.
The decision to resume the rivalry isn’t that big of a surprise, given that there is money to be made off of it. Missouri officials have been saying that since 2012, and KU officials eventually proved them right. (Full disclosure: The Journal-World and its KUsports.com site likely will try to make money off the rivalry as well, meaning we’ll try to keep our stones away from our glass house.)
The resumption of the rivalry also isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of our world today. It probably isn’t worth the time of a lengthy debate. Still, let’s use the announcement as an opportunity to remember a few things:
• The rivalry had grown too ugly. The KU vs. MU football games in Arrowhead Stadium had become unenjoyable to many KU fans. Whiskey bottles flying past your ear, shoving in the stands and palpable tension between crimson and blue and gold and black wherever you walked. Missouri fans were obnoxious to KU fans. They likely felt the same about KU fans. KU basketball coach Bill Self said last week he missed “the fans’ hatred for one another,” which seems like an odd statement to make in today’s world. The KU vs. K-State rivalry feels much healthier. If KU insists on restarting the rivalry, hopefully they can give it more of that feel. But that will be a tall order, given the history. Sometimes it is best to realize that life will be fine if you never see each other again.
• What Missouri did in 2012 in leaving the Big 12 Conference was a serious matter. Missouri — and to be fair, Nebraska too — really sold out their region of the country. The Big 12 Conference is one of the institutions that brings attention to the central region of the country. In a small way, it gives a region that needs a voice an opportunity to have one. For reasons of jealously and delusions of grandeur, Missouri and Nebraska put all that at risk. KU was in real jeopardy at the time. It is not hard to imagine KU playing basketball in the Big East Conference. It would have created not only a geographic mess, but a financial one. Nebraska and Missouri have gone on to create pedestrian lives in new neighborhoods. We probably don’t need to hold that grudge any longer, but why do we need to break bread with them?
• If KU wants to create a rivalry that matters, begin playing Wichita State in basketball every year. There are many KU fans who would much rather see that game. The reasons that KU previously cited for not scheduling WSU seem hollow now. If the power of athletics is as important as some university officials want us to believe, KU should schedule Wichita State on an annual basis. It would make Wichita State as an institution stronger.
Some fans may say that is the reason not to schedule WSU. Those are fans of basketball only. Fans of the state should feel differently. The state of Kansas needs all the help it can get. Most of the state is declining in population. Wichita continues to be viable for population growth, but only marginally so. WSU will play an important role in boosting the Wichita region. Again, if KU officials truly believe that athletics can make an institution stronger, then help a fellow state school add a marquee game to its schedule every year.
It would make the neighborhood better. Our new Hatfield and McCoy show probably won’t.