The Next 5-15 Years Will Be The Most Important In K-State History

Last time I checked in with you in full-post form, I was prematurely announcing the death of the Big 12.  While Nebraska did indeed take its show to the Big Bore Conference, the expected West Coast Exodus of Texas and friends to the Pac-10 never materialized.  Thanks to the last-minute promise of ESPN/ABC's commitment to the current TV contract, and possibly a huge new TV contract from Fox, Texas and friends decided their best course of action was to remain with the Big 12-2.

That last statement makes me hesitant to join the chorus of others who are thanking Texas for its great benevolence in saving what remains of the Big 12 Conference.  While I'm certainly happy that K-State didn't end up facing the prospect of a move to the Big East or Mountain West, and that my home city didn't face the prospect of losing its identity as a college-sports crossroads, Texas didn't save the Big 12 for any of those considerations.  Texas made its decision based on its own self-interest, as decided by Bill Powers and DeLoss Dodds, not out of concern for K-State or KU or Missouri or Kansas City or anyone else.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Texas fans are unhappy with their administration's decision.  While it was clearly a conservative play by the UT administration, it was a smart play.  They'll get to bide their time, wait for whatever else may shake out in this current round of conference realignment, rake in the money from a new TV contract that should rival those of the Big 10 and SEC, and (probably) not end up taking the blame from many thousands of college sports fans for triggering a seismic shift in the college sports landscape that would have immediately disenfranchised several entrenched schools.

For K-State, UT's decision wasn't intended as a gift, but the happy consequence is that we remain in a BCS AQ conference for the foreseeable future.  The key phrase there is "foreseeable future," because nobody has any idea how long this union is going to last.  If the Big 10 suddenly decides that it wants Missouri, then it's pretty likely the Tigers will defect and it's entirely possible everyone's staring down the barrel of the realignment gun again.  Or, the other major conferences could decide it's time to move to 16-team superconferences, at which point Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma are forced to accept that their future is not in the Central Plains conference that has been their personal playground.  There are too many scenarios to consider, and the likelihood of any of them is too unpredictable even to discuss.

But really, at this point, I don't particularly care whether this conference is built for long-lasting success or not.

Yes, you read that previous sentence correctly.  It's not that I don't suddenly not love the Big 12.  But it's time for K-State to use the opportunity it has been given by the continued existence of the Big 12 to position itself for whatever brave new world may await in five, 10 or 15 years.  If things work out and the Big 12-2 becomes a superpower conference that others want to join and nobody wants to leave, that's great.

The problem is, it may not work out so well.  And if it doesn't, K-State cannot permit itself to remain in the position it occupied this time around.  We admitted it here at BOTC from the beginning: K-State was on the sidelines for this round of realignment.  That's not because we aren't proud of our school, or don't think we got a great education there, or that we can't be successful in athletics.  It's a problem of geography, demographics, and complacency.

The former two of those can't be changed easily.  We can't snap our fingers and add 500,000 K-State fans to the KC Metro Area or Wichita.  We can't change the fact that we're located in a small-population Great Plains state.  But we can make institutional changes that improve the university internally and make it an attractive target to conferences that may be looking to expand in the future.

Spend the money wisely

Whenever these new TV deals are done, the projections are that every school will make at least $14 million annually, meaning each school should at least double what they currently bring in.  Clearly, we've been competing pretty well with what we have already, so if we can maintain the intelligent decision making that has generally been a hallmark of our administration, the windfall could be used to great effect.

First of all, the money must go to football and men's basketball.  It's great that we built a new boathouse for the crew team and a new barn for the equestrian team and a world-class golf course for the golf teams, but now those teams have their facilities.  Those facilities were built in boom times, economically and athletically, at K-State.  With everything a little leaner these days, we can't afford such luxuries.

Last summer, the $70 million athletic enhancements were put on hold.  With the new money coming in, we should be able to start investing in getting those new facilities built.  First and foremost, the new basketball practice facility and west-side expansion of Bramlage Coliseum must get done.  Frank Martin has built a basketball program capable of making deep tournament runs, so he's held up his end of the bargain.  It's time to reward Martin and the players with the facilities they deserve.  Just as important, we need to work on some renovations to Snyder Family Stadium.  The article mentions a west-side facelift of the stadium, but I would consider general facility enhancements (read: bathrooms, concessions) throughout the stadium and any improvements that may be needed for the players to be more important, and not necessarily in that order.  Much less important to me are a hall of fame and expanded ticket office.

The bottom line is that we are fans of all K-State sports teams, but certain teams will be the athletic department's engine in conference realignment.  Those are football and men's basketball, only and in that order.  Accordingly, our investment of the new money that comes our way needs to be in those programs.

Develop the academic reputation

Academic prestige has been a touchy subject for me throughout these realignment discussions.  Let there be no doubt that I am proud of my K-State education, and proud of the academic mission that K-State serves.

That said, to ignore the fact that we have a poor academic perception would be to ignore reality.  We are a third-tier research university.  Our endowment is last in the Big 12...by a long shot.  While I'm loathe to believe that either of those metrics really measure the value of the education you get, at least as an undergraduate, at an institution, they matter to those who make the decisions, and while academic standing alone wouldn't be enough to get us into a major conference, it could and would be used as a reason to keep us out of a major conference.

New K-State President Kirk Schulz has already made it clear he intends to do something about this with the K-State 2025 plan.  The stated goal is to make K-State a top 50 public research institution in the next 15 years.  While the plan is still in the developmental stages, it's a step in the right direction.

One important aspect of K-State's growth as an institution will undoubtedly be NBAF.  This $650 million lab should be operational within the next five years, and it will bring 300 high-level scientists to the Manhattan area.  I have little doubt that NBAF will be the centerpiece of K-State's push to improve its research standing.

Other observations

NBAF's other benefits

The new federal lab has the potential to help K-State both academically and athletically.  Projections show that Manhattan's population could double in as little as 20 years due to NBAF.  Also, NBAF will almost certainly attract science-based industry to the Manhattan area.  This means more local population and more business, which should mean more demand for tickets and suites.  We must capitalize on this lab in every way possible if we are to get K-State where it needs to be.

Realignment winners and losers

I hesitate to play this game, but it's worth noting a few observations on what everyone got out of this realignment.

K-State, KU, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor -- Winners.  This goes directly contrary to what most seem to think, but it's absolutely true.  Too many people are letting pride get in the way of good business judgment here.  These five schools were on the brink of being members of the Mountain West and, no offense to the MWC, but that would be a financial disaster for these five schools.  The Big 12-2 is set up to favor Texas and the other major-market teams, but no more so than the Big 12 was, and each school should be taking home double what they did previously.  You have to think about this in terms of alternatives.  Would you rather double your money and remain in a BCS AQ conference where one school has a disproportionate share of power, or would you rather be in a non-AQ conference that distributes less than what you made under the previous Big 12 TV deal?  The answer is obvious.

Colorado -- Losers.  The Buffs are proclaiming victory because they got out from under Texas' oppressive thumb, but what did they really gain?  They will now lose millions in revenue from the Big 12 -- I'll conservatively estimate the amount at $5-10 million -- and they're going to a Pac-10 that promised them $20 million per year, but won't be able to deliver on that promise.  Larry Scott's promise of riches was predicated on getting UT, TAMU, OU and CU, and he's going to end up with CU and Utah.  Not bad gets in terms of TV markets, but does anyone really think that's enough to go from $5 million/year per school to $20 million?  Count me skeptical.

Pac-10 -- Losers.  Scott swung for the fences and ended up hitting a weak pop fly into foul territory.  Colorado has been awful in both major sports for several  years now, and unless it returns to its early-to-mid 1990s form soon it won't command significant ratings in the Denver market.  Utah is a good program but Salt Lake City is hardly a game changer market.  A prominent sports business guru noted that Texas and Notre Dame were the only game changers in realignment.  Colorado and Utah are a far cry from Notre Dame and Texas.

Big 10 -- Push.  They'll get a championship game and a new program that pulls pretty good national ratings, but they also didn't get Notre Dame or Texas.  Not a bad consolation prize, but not the imperial ambitions that had been speculated.

Nebraska -- Push.  The Huskers give up their 100-year-old rivalries and a relatively clean shot at a Big 12 championship game anytime they're pretty good by leaving the Big 12 North to play in a division that will likely include Iowa, Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan.  I'm sure the fans are initially excited -- if my Facebook page is any indication -- but we all know Nebraska fans are motivated by one thing and one thing only: winning.  What if we get to 2015 and the Huskers haven't won a Big 10 title yet?  Anyway, this ends up being a push because the Big 10's money and academic prestige should be significant gains for Nebraska.

Conclusion

While I strongly believe that all the above actions are necessary for K-State going forward, obviously nothing is guaranteed.  Just having the money is no guarantee that the use it's put to will pay off.  We can invest the money in coaches and facilities, but unless the coaches can recruit and coach, it won't matter.  Having a plan for replacing Bill Snyder whenever he decides to retire is imperative, and the next K-State football coaching hire -- whenever it occurs -- will be kind of important.  It also takes decades to grow a university's endowment, and the absurdly small number we have right now won't change overnight, but the school needs to start getting the word out to alums about making a testamentary gift to the school if they can afford it.

One thing that needs to be very well understood is that Texas' "oppression" is a convenient excuse for every school when things aren't going their way.  I've often argued for equal revenue sharing, and two or three years ago, when times were good and the conference appeared stable, that was a reasonable argument to make.  Today, staring down the prospect of the Mountain West, it's not.  Further, just like Texas didn't kill off Nebraska by limiting partial qualifiers, it hasn't killed off the rest of the conference by not sharing the money equally.  Sure, that money would really help other schools with coaching hires and retention.  But Nebraska was going to suck regardless because it hired Frank Solich and then Bill Callahan.  K-State was going to suck regardless of the money because it hired Ron Prince.  A little more money from the conference was never going to make Dan Hawkins successful at Colorado.  Gene Chizik wouldn't have won more than five games in two years at Iowa State based on equal revenue sharing.  Even with its advantages, Texas couldn't overcome John Mackovick and Oklahoma couldn't overcome Howard Schnellenburger and John Blake.  Oklahoma and Texas have thrived because they hired Bob Stoops and Mack Brown, and Tech thrived before it idiotically fired Mike Leach.  Conversely, Texas A&M seemingly couldn't make an intelligent decision if it tried, between Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman, although the jury is still out on Sherman.

None of it's going to be easy for K-State.  But just because it's hard is no reason not to try.  Kirk Schulz and John Currie have impressed me so far with their leadership at K-State.  We have bought some amount of time with the saving of the Big 12.  Now we need to use it for all it's worth.

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