For KU and K-State, new sports conferences could mean new opportunities
Bill Self hands the the Big 12 Championship Trophy to players after Kansas defeated TCU on March 4, 2020, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Paul Samberg is a senior at the University of Kansas studying journalism, Jewish studies and political science.
Growing up in Connecticut, I seldom experienced the rah-rah energy of state university athletics.
Sure, we celebrated the occasional Cinderella story from UConn in March Madness, and the women’s basketball team was a reliable frontrunner year in and year out. But neither of those provided the atmosphere and energy I get as a University of Kansas student on game days — both basketball and football.
I think it’s for that reason that I am not all that upset about the University of Texas and Oklahoma University taking strides toward leaving the Big 12. Instead, their departure can provide our schools in the conference, Kansas State University and KU, with opportunities to accelerate their athletic programs in non-Big 12 divisions. (It does look as though the conference will soon be welcoming new members, but let’s take the opportunity to think bigger.)
After Texas and Oklahoma jointly announced on July 26 they are not planning to renew their grants of media rights following a 2025 expiration, U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall of Kansas each called for congressional hearings regarding the alleged role ESPN had in the two universities’ decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.
The two senators are understandably concerned about UT and OU leaving; the Big 12’s TV deal is $250 million per year, and 50% is generated by the two departing schools. That said, I think Moran and Marshall should reconsider their stances and advocate for K-State and KU to depart from the Big 12, too. Specifically, they should support K-State moving to the PAC-12 and KU moving to the Big Ten.
K-State moving to the PAC-12 should be a no-brainer, financially. The conference’s TV deal is bigger than the Big 12’s by nearly $400 million — nothing for K-State to scoff at.
From a competition standpoint, K-State could benefit from joining a new conference. To be frank, K-State hasn’t made much noise in basketball or football. It has six total conference football titles and, since 1997, two conference basketball titles — not to mention zero national championships in either sport.
Might a program like that benefit from joining a conference with 10 national football championships since its conception and two national basketball championships since 1990? Absolutely.
For KU, there is mutual benefit to joining the Big Ten. Of the power five conferences, the Big Ten ranked first in gross revenue while the Big 12 ranked last; about $360 million separated the two conferences. Again, the financial advantages to switching conferences are important for the senators to consider.
As a KU student, I can confidently say the football program won’t be a factor regardless of what conference it is in. However, the basketball program makes up for that and then some. Were KU to migrate to the Big Ten, the conference would gain a constant title contender and blue blood program.
KU basketball has a combined 29 Big 12 regular season and tournament championships and winning records against every current and former Big 12 team. A change of competition should be welcomed by KU.
Changing conferences is not an uncommon occurrence. After being a founding member of the Big East, UConn remained in the conference as it turned into the American Athletic Conference in 2013, before joining the new Big East Conference in 2020. UConn retained its fan base, and the NCAA remained prosperous.
To our Kansas senators and everyone else up in arms over the pending Big 12 realignment: Stop wasting your energy. Instead, advocate for a realignment that best supports our state’s universities financially and competitively.
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