Posted on: September 7, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 9:16 pm
Congratulations Big 12, now you're all to blame. It's not just Texas A&M or Baylor or Oklahoma or Texas or Dan Beebe. It's all of you looking like fools.
The infighting that broke out Wednesday is embarrassing. If Texas A&M wants to go to the SEC, let it go. This looks like a cat fight on "Housewives of Beverly Hills," except the participants wear bow ties and carry law degrees and conduct endless conference calls. It's half tortuous, half torture.
A&M president R. Bowen Loftin is accusing Beebe, the Big 12 commissioner, and member schools of slowing the Aggies' migration to the SEC. A portion of the remaining nine Big 12 schools are with Baylor in reserving the right to have legal claims against the SEC. Twenty years from now fathers will be telling their sons the story of the Big 12. The dads will first pour themselves stiff drink.
These are educated people who should know how to conduct themselves. Instead, they look tawdry, jealous, petty. At the moment, Baylor is rallying a group of conference thugs -- yeah, I said it -- to try to delay A&M's inevitable move to the SEC. At the same time, they're trying to delay things so much that either Oklahoma loses its desire to go to the Pac-12 or the Pac-12 simply shuts the door.
In announcing it had voted Texas A&M in as a 13th member, the SEC said Wednesday in a statement that it had "unanimous written assurance from the Big 12" on Sept. 2 releasing any legal claims against the SEC.
However, Loftin had difficulty getting assurances for what were termed "release of claims," from other Big 12 schools. That was following a Wednesday Big 12 conference call that included what were estimated to be at least seven Big 12 institutions but not all 10.
"At least half, if not the majority are going to reserve their rights for litigation," a source said. "Unless you've got great options that would not be a wise document to sign."
Given recent reports at least five Big 12 schools have those "options" for future conference homes -- Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri. That would leave Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor without clear prospects should the conference collapse.
In a Sept. 2 letter to his SEC counterpart Mike Slive, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said his conference would not take any legal action against the SEC if Texas A&M were admitted by Sept. 8.
"We both agreed it is in the best interests of each of our conferences and our members institutions," Beebe wrote, "to ... to waive any and all legal actions by the conference and its members resulting from admission of Texas A&M into the SEC."
Baylor and others disagree.
"The end game is to stabilize the Big 12," the source said. "What most of us are looking for is a stable conference."
None of this means any of the other Big 12 schools will actually sue. Oklahoma has a decision to make in pursuing the Pac-12. OU president David Boren said Friday that process could take up to three weeks. Oklahoma State would likely follow Oklahoma if the Sooners headed west.
Texas then would have to decide between 1) following Oklahoma to the Pac-12; 2) staying in a diminished Big 12; 3) going independent and 4) going to an expanded ACC. Even though ACC commissioner John Swofford shot down the idea of Texas coming to his conference on Monday, there are those who think that idea may be alive. In choices 1-3, the continued viability of the LHN is in question. Option No. 4 would theoretically would allow Texas to bring the Longhorn Network with it.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Saturday that the conference remains "wedded" to it equal revenue distribution model.
Posted on: August 29, 2011 8:37 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 9:05 pm
Let's look at this current conference alignment thing a different way. No commissioner wants to be seen as the one to cause Alignment Armageddon. But if it has to be the Big 12, who could blame Dan Beebe? His embattled league has suffered enough. Suddenly it has options, good ones, with or without Texas A&M.
We all pretty much agree that we're headed sooner or later toward the age of the super conference with four 16-team (or whatever number) conferences. The question is how or when. Right now, we stand on the precipice with Texas A&M wanting to go to the SEC, but the SEC still thinking about whether to take the Aggies.
That's because the SEC doesn't have to expand. It's fine how it is with 18 years to run on a $3 billion contract with CBS and ESPN. If A&M goes then sooner or later, the SEC is going to have to get a 14th member. Commissioner Mike Slive seemingly loves A&M but he -- and his presidents -- don't necessarily want to be that guy, responsible for breaking up another league.
The question is whether Beebe has such reservations. And as long as he has Oklahoma and Texas, he has leverage.
As mentioned, it's looking suddenly like the Big 12 is dealing from a position of strength. It could lose Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC and still be able to lure two teams (or more) to stay viable. Why? As long as the Texas/Oklahoma axis remains solid, so is the league. Fox invested $1.17 billion over 13 years just for the secondary rights. The Big 12 is going to hit another big financial home run in a couple of years when it goes out to bid. (The assumption is that ESPN will re-up for the primary rights.)
To this point, Oklahoma has shown a willingness to stay with Texas. While the schools are rivals on the field, ADs Joe Castiglione and DeLoss Dodds are close. They know that the fortunes of the two superpowers are mutually beneficial.
If Texas and Oklahoma stay bonded, the Big 12 is in somewhat of a position of power. It could raid the Big East and go to 12 or 16. Why not go get Pittsburgh and Louisville? Sure, Big East basketball great but think of a hoops league with Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Pittsburgh and Louisville.
BIG POINT NO. 1: Even though the Big East is due for a windfall rights fee of its own in a few years I'm told that the pending primary rights deal for the Big 12 would be bigger than the Big East's entire deal.
Would that possibility pry Notre Dame loose? Not likely. ND AD Jack Swarbrick reiterated for the millionth time on Monday that his school is happy with independence. ND probably would need eight home games to make the deal work in the Big 12 because of its deal with NBC, at least one of those being a neutral site game. The school makes a reported $15 million a year from that deal. The Big 12 wouldn't say no then ND also reaping $20 million from the Big 12 deal. Heck, it's Notre Dame.
Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said publicly last year that the Big 12 would be an attractive place for Notre Dame's minor sports. The schools do start a four-game football series in 2015.
While we're at it, let's also forget the talk of Arkansas, SMU and Houston to the Big 12. Arkansas would be taking a pay cut. The Big 12 is already in the Dallas, Houston and state of Texas markets. SMU is making its case in part because it has been to back-to-back bowls. Is that all it takes these days?
In this age don't think of conference affiliations, think of which schools assembled together make for the most lucrative media rights deals. Remember, geography matters little. When TCU enters the Big East in 2012 that will be its fifth conference since 1995.
That's why the pool of candidates for the SEC's No. 14 has to include Missouri, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia Tech. That's not the list, it's a best-guess list if you believe that the SEC isn't going to expand inside its footprint. That means no Georgia Tech, no Louisville, no Clemson, no Florida State.
Whether the Big 12 loses Missouri or not, BYU has emerged as an attractive replacement for Texas A&M. That's not news. BYU has a loyal and large following. The question is whether BYU would give up its long-range plan for independence after only one year. One source last week went as far as to say BYU would be "excited" about the prospect of joining the Big 12.
AD Tom Holmoe told Brett McMurphy this month that his school was happy at the moment.
While the Cougars have ESPN as a scheduling partner, it has to become apparent to the school sooner or later that it is all but out of BCS contention in most seasons. By going independent, it has the essentially the same BCS status as Army and Navy. That is to say, the only automatic berth would be if BYU finishes No. 1 or No. 2.
The six BCS conference champions are guaranteed a bid. A champion from one of the five non-BCS leagues get a bid if it finishes in the top 12 or top 16 if it is ranked higher in the final BCS standings than a BCS conference champion. Notre Dame (because it's Notre Dame) gets an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight of the BCS.
Army, Navy and BYU? Guaranteed only in the top two. BIG POINT NO. 2: Essentially that means BYU could finish 10-2 (or even 11-1) and have nothing guaranteed in the BCS.
Earlier this year, I wrote that BYU's independence was more about faith that most people thought. I'm starting to think all it would take is one year of being left out of the BCS (and a call from the Big 12) for the school's fans and officials to change their minds about independence.
Meanwhile, the "composition language" in the SEC contract is probably similar to that of the Big 12's. That means ESPN would most likely try to renegotiate downward its current deal with the Big 12. Say that is 10 percent of the contract given that A&M represents 10 percent of the Big 12. At that point it becomes like rearranging deck chairs. ESPN could tell the SEC, the money it is taking away from the Big 12 goes to the SEC. In essence, A&M's money would follow it to the SEC.
It isn't that easy. The SEC would most likely negotiate for more saying it is gaining huge viewership in the state of Texas. BIG POINT NO. 3: What's forgotten is the SEC isn't starting from a zero position. In case you haven't noticed, ESPN is already in Texas. SMU AD Steve Orsini told me last week that the ratings for Big 12 and SEC games in Dallas are "even." Whether that's true or not, there is already a big following for the SEC in the Lone Star State because there is a big following for the SEC everywhere. That's why the league already gets the big bucks.
A further hang-up on this A&M thing: It's better for everyone if the SEC expands by two all at once. That's one negotiation, rather than two. But if Texas A&M is one, what's the other?
It might not matter to the Big 12.
Posted on: July 26, 2011 5:54 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2011 12:04 am
DALLAS -- You'd think they would have learned by now, the Big 12's Four Little Piggies.
Excuse the analogy regarding what are really Tigers, Jayhawks, Wildcats and Cyclones, but the conference's North Division leftovers would -- like the nursery rhyme Three Little Piggies -- be wise to look for sturdier homes.
That lesson was driven home last summer when conference realignment came up on Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State and smacked them over the head with a lead pipe. Surprise didn't even begin to describe it when the league started falling apart.
Few knew that Nebraska had secretly begun talking to the Big Ten in January 2010. Texas was going to do what Texas was going to do. The Pac-10 came along and almost conducted a daring raid.
The 4LP came this close to being homeless. The four would have found a home somewhere but that's the point. Better to go house-shopping on your own rather than waiting until a hurricane ruins the neighborhood.
Four schools that had been joined together for parts of a century suddenly would have been scattered.
Missouri: It went from thinking rather foolishly that it was Big Ten bound (it wasn't) to being nowhere but the Big 12 when Nebraska left.
Kansas: The seriousness of conference realignment hit home when a school with a top-five basketball program would have been looking for a home.
Kansas State-Iowa State: Total wild cards. Their markets (small) wouldn't have taken them anywhere specific.
Most likely the four would have ended up in some combination of the Big East and/or Mountain West. Perhaps Conference USA would have been involved trying to make itself into a BCS-worthy league. The Big East was considering inviting all four Piggies if the Big 12 split according to sources.
The lesson to be learned as conference upheaval once again strikes the Big 12 is for the Four Little Piggies to be proactive. If their administrators aren't maintaining back-channel communications with other leagues then they are foolish. However, the reaction of Jamie Pollard seems typical.
"We're married, I'm married," Iowa State's AD said. "I'm not going to be talking to someone else I’m going to be married to."
The Big 12 was a contentious union for its first 15 years. Thirteen months later, here we are again with Texas A&M upset with Texas' launching of The Longhorn Network.
"That issue [with Texas A&M] has been around that institution for a long time," said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe. "Thankfully, the coaches and administrators and others are adamant about being in the Big 12."
Beebe has long preached the dangers of a school moving out of its natural "geographic proximity." For what is believed to be the first time on Tuesday, he basically tipped his hat and wished Colorado good luck for getting closer to its fan base.
"When you remove your institution from your orientation, your rivalries, I think it's really going to be problematic ...," Beebe said. "Colorado went to its orientation because they had 50,000 more alums that were located in the Pac-10 footprint than the Big 12 foot print."
Posted on: July 24, 2011 3:40 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 4:35 pm
Heading into the conference's media days in Dallas beginning Monday, here are five key issues.
1. Stability. The Big 12 was a shotgun marriage from the start. We're just seeing the latest manifestation of the cultural and geographical incongruity. Texas A&M and Oklahoma are upset at the way Texas has pushed the Longhorn Network on the conference. There was a vague idea that TLN was going to broadcast high school games, but that quickly became a deal-breaker when TLN head Dave Brown went on Austin radio on early June and went Manifest Destiny on the Big 12. Eighteen high school games? Broadcasting out-of-state high school games of 2012 Texas commits? All parties are working things out. The league should stay together -- this time. The point is, the league needs to calm down when level-minded observers point out the conference's instability. Note to the Big 12: The current lineup may last 50 years (doubt it) but quit getting upset every time someone points out Texas is the big dog and usually gets its way. That alone might be enough someday to break up this league. It won't be over this issue, but the Big 12 will continue to live in a constant state of flux.
2. Oklahoma rules. With Texas down and not looking to rebound anytime soon, Oklahoma looks like it is ready to run away and hide in the new Big 12. No surprise. The Sooners won seven of the 15 old Big 12 titles and are loaded again this year. While Bob Stoops hasn’t been able to follow up on that 2000 title, this would be only the second time in the BCS era the Sooners will have been picked as a preseason No. 1.
3. How the North was lost. The remaining members of the division formerly known as the North in the Big 12 face a distinct competitive disadvantage in the new 10-team league. Notably, there will be no more scheduling holes that allowed Kansas to win 12 games in 2007 without having to play Oklahoma or Texas. That's one example. There are more. Point is, the new round-robin Big 12 schedule is going to make it extremely difficult for Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State or Iowa State to make a serious run at a title in the 10-team league. Those schools will be playing Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma each season. Since 2005, the remaining North schools have lost 75 percent of their games to those three. Add to that the reality that every other year, teams will be playing five of nine conference games on the road. Not only is there a competitive disadvantage -- only Kansas State among the four has won a Big 12 title -- there will be a physical toll as well. With a round-robin schedule, there will be fewer breathers.
4. Mack Brown's future. Texas' coach did what any veteran would do when the program slides off the edge of the cliff. He changed his coordinators. Much of the Horns' ability to turn around immediately from a 5-7 disaster will be on the shoulders of co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Harsin is credited for making Boise State a huge offensive force in recent years. Diaz's career has soared since he began as an intern at ESPN. If Texas doesn't rebound quickly and begin competing for the conference title again, will this be Mack's final year?
5. Bring the kids, spread out a blanket and watch the fireworks. For whatever reason, the Big 12 has become the most entertaining league in the country. This is a conference that produced Vince Young, Chase Daniel and Jason White. The conference has made its on-field rep with great offenses and great offensive players. Three of the top six players in total offense came from the Big 12 last year. The top two receivers in the country (Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles) were also from the Big 12. Oregon's LaMichael James led the country in scoring. No. 2? Lou Groza Award winner Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State. The Cowboys and Sooners were 2-3 in passing. With Baylor maturing and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at the top of their offensive games, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to "hang half a hundred on 'em," as Barry Switzer used to say.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 8:26 pm
At one point Thursday afternoon, I Tweeted "Big 12 making WAC look stable."
One Big 12 loyalist immediately shot back: "u know something we don't?"
Apparently. Start with the new, 13-month old league looking a lot like the 15-year old previous version of the Big 12 that almost disintegrated last year. It looks just as shaky and twice as disparate. Texas is starting a network on its terms. Everyone else in the Big 12 is having problems with those terms. They include televising high school games and as well as one conference game.
Several issues: Texas A&M, among others, isn't happy with Texas essentially having its own televised recruiting service. That, and conference rivals helping drive ratings and subscribers by playing Texas on its own network.
Commissioner Dan Beebe seemingly had calmed the waters by issuing a Thursday statement saying the issue needed "clarification" and that the league would "manage the interplay". Beebe concluded by saying the pause button had been it on TLN. It could show no more than one game (the opener against Rice) and no high school games until things were sorted out.
I thought these types of conflicts would be avoided for at least a few years. But who knew Texas and ESPN would launch a network without getting these issues resolved with the rest of the Big 12? Or maybe it doesn't matter. It's the other members -- particularly Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State -- who are just happy to be in a BCS conference at this point.
As one executive intimated to me this week: These schools DO understand why the conference stayed together, right?
That kind of gives you a picture of where things stand at the moment. Texas has all the power, as usual. And most of the rest have to take it except for Texas A&M, and perhaps Oklahoma. A&M made it clear to me Wednesday that the administration is upset with comments made by TLN network chief Dave Brown, a long-time power broker in college football for ESPN.
A&M and OU have some leverage, which translates into jumping to the SEC if pushed too far on this issue. Read this scathing statement from Aggies' AD Bill Byrne.
“I have continued to have concerns about the Longhorn Network since the original announcement by ESPN and Texas. Since last summer, the Big 12 member institutions have committed to work together in a spirit of unity and equality. Recent news reports concerning this network; however, have created a considerable amount of uncertainty.
We had an agreement in place that Big 12 members would have the right to one non-conference football game and four to six basketball games for third tier, or institutional rights. The concept of the Longhorn Network broadcasting two live football games -- with one of these being a conference game -- had not been discussed among the Big 12 athletic directors.
Our concerns were heightened further when news reports surfaced that the Longhorn Network would be broadcasting high school football games featuring Texas high school recruits, including recruits living outside the state of Texas. Knowing how restrictive NCAA rules are regarding any collegiate representative contacting prospects, we contacted the NCAA for an interpretation. We are still waiting for the NCAA's response.
I have continued to communicate our concerns to the conference office and my fellow athletic directors. We are pleased that the Commissioner has started to address these concerns, but many questions remain. These are significant issues for all of collegiate athletics as they relate to broadcast rights, revenue distribution and the recruitment of student-athletes.”
There it is. A&M ain't standing for it and -- best guess -- the SEC would take an Aggie-Sooner package in a heartbeat. That would likely set off a chain reaction of new conference realignment that could lead to the era of super conferences.
What's likely to happen? ESPN isn't going to risk the disintegration of the Big 12 (a partner) to show high school games on TLN (a different, new partner). ESPN made a financial commitment to the Big 12 last year to keep Texas in the fold, if for no other reason than the Horns having a launching pad for that network. Essentially, we're talking about Big 12 game inventory (a lot) being worth more than TLN's (a little) to ESPN.
If the NCAA doesn't rule that the high school games are an unfair recruiting advantage, Texas/ESPN will simply back down and not show them. It's worth it to keep everyone happy. Sources here at the SEC media days told me that the high school programming isn't a huge deal. It would be nice to have on the TLN but its absence is not going to wreck it.
Guess that means more re-runs of the Mack Brown Show. I'm sure A&M will be happy with that.
Posted on: March 21, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 3:32 pm
Stay strong, Jay Bilas . It's not the fact that Virginia Commonwealth is in the Sweet 16, people. The fact remains that VCU didn't deserve to be in the bracket in the first place. Colorado could have gone in place of the Rams and also gone to the Sweet 16. Tell me Missouri State wouldn't have had a shot with the right matchup.
It's a separate argument -- 1) Did VCU deserve to be in the bracket? No. 2) Does winning in the tournament justify that spot in the bracket? No. I can give you the name of five teams that could have gotten hot and won two games.
Big East flop. After the first round, the Big East was guaranteed at least two teams in the Sweet 16. That's all it got. For what is believed to be the first time in the seeding era, the selection committee knowingly made it possible for not one, but two games between conference foes in the second round.
The committee long ago had to abandon the principle of conference rivals not being able to meet until the regional final. A 16-team Big East made the committee get rid of that principle for obvious reasons. But it was lazy that the committee didn't try to eliminate the possibility of Connecticut-Cincinnati and Marquette-Syracuse in the second round. That looks more like Big Monday than the NCAA tournament.
It wasn't fair to the Big East to have to eat its own so early in the bracket. It showed the committee didn't do its diligence. That being said, the fact that the Mountain West has as many teams in the Sweet 16 as the Big East (two) is embarrassing -- for the Big East.
Most entertaining regional? It isn't the Southwest where Kansas is surrounded by three mutts (Richmond, VCU and Florida State). I'll give you the Southeast with Butler still alive, again, going against the immovable force in Wisconsin. The Southeast also has Jimmer (Fredette) and Billy (Donovan).
But I'll take the West where I dare you to pick the best player in Anaheim. Is it Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker or Kawhi Leonard? There are so many storylines at the Honda Center, my head is spinning.
--San Diego State is expected to take over the Honda Center. The school is less than two hours from Anaheim. "The Show" almost blew the roof off the McKale Center last week.
--Is it possible to have too many good players? Duke barely survived Michigan while trying to integrate Irving back in the lineup. That's a problem every other team would love to have. Also, if Coach K gets to the Final Four out of this regional, he will tie a certain Bobby Knight for the Division I record in career wins, 902. Go, Mike, go!
--San Diego State fans were chanting "We want Kemba!" after beating Temple in the second round. Be careful what you wish for, Aztecs. I'll kind of answer my previous question: Walker might be the best player in the regional and maybe the country.
--Arizona's Derrick Williams comes back home to his native L.A. As of this moment, Williams is the most important and charismatic player in the tournament. (That's different than "best".) His block in the first round against Memphis preserved the win. His and-one late against Texas on Sunday was the difference. Think Williams will be a little energized going back home playing for a spot in the Final Four?
Easiest road to the Final Four: You kidding? It has to be Kansas. If it wins, it won't face a single-digit seed until the Final Four. On the one-year anniversary of losing to Northern Iowa in 2010, the Jayhawks destroyed an Illinois team Sunday that brought to mind an obvious question: How did VCU and Illinois get in the bracket?
Posted on: March 10, 2011 4:31 pm
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It wasn't the No. 1 seed being at risk.
It wasn't the foul trouble.
It wasn't the flat start.
It was the near embarrassment for No. 2 Kansas of being punked in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament by a five-foot nothing shooting guard with an overbite.
Too harsh a description for Oklahoma State's Keiton Page? Maybe not. Jayhawks guard Tyrel Reed was asked if the (actually, 5-foot-9) Cowboys guard would be considered a Big 12-caliber player at first glance.
"I don't think anyone would [think that]," Reed said. "He probably doesn't look the part, but definitely plays the part."
Page, the Cowboys' second-leading scorer, is one of those gnat-like guards who can seemingly dribble between your legs. But let up or back off and that embarrassment potential is high. He's that little guy who can stick a three in your face and shoots 90 percent from the line. That Page didn't touch the ball in the game's final possession was probably the difference in Kansas' 63-62 win. Up until that point, he had been the Cowboys statistical and spiritual leader with 23 points.
"When you talk about the eye test, there's a lot of guys out there who don't exactly pass the eye test," KU coach Bill Self said, "for what the prototypical two-guard in the Big 12 should look like. But that kid can play. He's a bad boy."
Not bad enough, it turned out. With his team trailing by that point, Oklahoma State's Jean-Paul Olukemi missed a closely-guarded three as time expired. The spiritual and statistical leader never touched the ball. Self had wisely placed long-armed 6-4 Elijah Johnson on Page to deny him the ball,
That the Jayhawks held Page to "only" 23 was the difference in Kansas moving on to Friday's semifinals. A loss would have raised even more questions about KU's focus this time of year. Hey, when you're 30-2 there isn't much more to analyze. That's 10 30-win seasons in school history, four under Self.
The Jayhawks have won seven consecutive regular-season Big 12 titles and, even with a loss, may have been able to keep a No. 1 seed. The last time they won a conference tournament game this close was five years to the day -- by the same score, against the same team.
"Obviously the last five minutes of a game is far more important than the first five, because the mistakes are magnified and you don't have time to recover," Self said. "In our season, we know we're going to get to go on, and their [Oklahoma State's] goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament. So they're in the last five and we played like were in the first five."
Leading rebounder Markieff Morris fouled out. KU shot only five-of-25 from the arc. Ho-hum, bring on the tournament. Kansas is among the handful of teams that have to span that mental abyss from a regular season of accomplishment to the "real" season in March. Seventeen days ago Page scored only eight points in a 27-point blowout in Lawrence. It was easy to figure that Oklahoma State -- likely headed for a three-letter postseason -- would have more energy, more desperation this time. Kansas' effort was explainable, even tolerable, this time of year. It wasn't explainable last year when Northern Iowa upset the Jayhawks in the second round with a similar desperation.
"I don't think we were looking forward to next week by any means," Reed said. "It was a tough game. Oklahoma State came out with a lot of energy ... There are going to be games when you're not making shots and things aren't going your way and it's going to be a half-court game. That was definitely a tourney type game [on Friday]. We've got a taste for it now."
Posted on: January 23, 2011 9:51 am
Edited on: January 23, 2011 4:59 pm
LAWRENCE, Kan. – It was a game worthy of “instant classic” status.
On The Longhorn Network, of course.
It was a scene that will be remembered long after what Texas’ 74-63 win over Kansas meant in the standings or rankings. For the first time in almost four years – 70 home games – they filed out of Allen Fieldhouse silent. No “Rooock Chaaalk, Jaaaayhaaawk” chant drifting down from the rafters after another Kansas victory.
Well, there wasn’t complete silence. A group of giddy Texas fans were sitting behind us in Section 10 whooping it up as their team’s win became apparent. You could practically see the steam rising off the heads of KU fans barely able to hold their tongues.
One Kansas fan on his way out early turned to the dancing, prancing Texas contingent and yelled, “How about doing it with some class?” Never mind that both sides’ fans – KU in basketball, Texas in football – have been known for their obnoxiousness at times.
It wasn’t about that, though, Saturday afternoon as we sat up behind one basket at historic Allen. It was a father-son outing. Jack had only been to one Kansas game in his life. We both watched the Ohio State-Illinois game earlier in the day knowing that if Illinois had won we might be watching KU play for the No. 1 ranking.
Me? I’m a dad who had a Saturday off to watch hoops with his son. Jack is a fan of the Jayhawks, as are most 14-year-olds who grow up 30 miles away in the Kansas City suburb of Johnson County, Kan. It’s like a worker at a Ford plant. He and his family tend to buy and drive Fords. It’s a loyalty thing. You become attached.
Jack is just learning what it means to be loyal. He jumped up and down with the students trying to distract a Longhorn free-throw shooter. He busily texted his friends, telling them where he was and what he was seeing. He met a friend sitting behind the Texas bench at halftime.
We have two “pro” franchises in the Kansas City area – the Chiefs and the Jayhawks. It’s a great sports town, a better college basketball town and on occasion – like 25 years ago – a baseball town. But the Chiefs and Hawks are talking points everywhere.
The talking points changed Saturday afternoon. Kansas didn’t lose the game because of the death of forward Thomas Robinson’s mother Friday night. That would be diminishing Texas’ coming-of-age effort that might have defined it as the new Big 12 favorite. More to the point, Kansas and Robinson somehow played through the tragedy for an afternoon.
The Jayhawks were good enough to go up 18-3 early. They led by 12 points at halftime and still had a double-digit lead in the second half. If anything, Kansas was inspired by their teammate deciding to play hours after his mother had passed. Robinson, a sophomore, recently lost two grandparents – his mother’s parents – in the last three weeks. It fell to Robinson’s sisters, 9-year-old Jayla, to deliver the news to her brother by phone Friday night.
Teammates and their mothers stayed up with Robinson through the early morning hours of Saturday morning trying to console him.
“It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” KU coach Bill Self told reporters.
Jack and I found out while making the pregame rounds to see friends on press row. KU play-by-play legend Bob Davis told us. Apparently, 37-year-old Lisa Robinson died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C. When a moment of silence was observed before the game, obviously many fans were surprised. There were a couple of audible gasps.
Robinson is a backup, a brawny 19-year-old who averages eight points and six rebounds per game. On this day he contributed two points, five rebounds and four fouls in eight minutes. As Texas made a stunning second-half comeback, it became less about Kansas’ 69-game home winning streak and more about rallying around Robinson.
In the postgame, teammates praised his desire to play. Texas coach Rick Barnes started his postgame presser by issuing condolences. Kansas may play better than it did in those opening few minutes but it will never play worse this season when Texas outscored it 51-28 in the second half.
Again, it’s too easy to call the Jayhawks distracted. Texas has a physical front line that showed how to beat KU for the first time this season: Body up the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus and shoot 64 percent in the second half.
That combination doesn’t happen every day against Kansas. It may not happen again this season. Maybe the Jayhawks were just … drained – emotionally, physically. There is a lot of healing still left. KU plays Colorado on Tuesday night. It’s not certain if Robinson will be there. There will be a funeral. Many, many more tears.
Whatever happens, Kansas is still a top-five team. It is also a changed team. Texas deserves our praise. Kansas deserves our sympathy.
It did everything right this weekend except win a basketball game. I’m hoping that’s what Jack remembers Saturday. He saw history – the end of that home streak – but he also saw loyalty and humanity.