I’ve dumped a draft of this article where I rage against the college football machine. I said terrible (and true) things about Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Arkansas — but I think y’all have plenty of those thoughts slamming around in your head at the moment. I see no point in stoking an already raging inferno. I feel for Kansas State and the remaining schools in the Big 12. This isn’t what college sports is about, but with the infusion of ESPN money over the last decade, this was inevitable. Granted, I would prefer to be stabbed in the front by the supposed “blue bloods” of the conference, as opposed to the back, but that would take a modicum of class and courage, and we all know that’s in short supply these days.
The truth is, the college football I know and love was designed to be a regional sport. You play the teams in your region (which about a decade ago is what comprised a “conference”) and then, if you’re good, you get a chance to travel somewhere nice and check out a different school, from a different region of the country. There was no expectation that someone in South Carolina would tune in and watch Kansas State play Iowa State, because that game wasn’t on national television anyway. Now in the world of, “if some college football is good, and more college football is better, then total college football saturation is the pinnacle” it’s tough to be a good team, from a small place, with a solid regional following.
In the end though, it’s OK to be Kansas State. It’s fine to be a land grant school in northeast Kansas with a devoted fan base that cares about football and fills the stands regardless of convection oven games in September and deep freeze games in November. That’s what college football is supposed to be about. Or, at least, that’s why it’s always appealed to me more than professional football. You love your school. You cheer for the good guys. You boo the bad guys, and after it’s over, you hit the parking lot or bar and celebrate (or mourn) with your people. Friendships are formed, experiences are shared, and we all feel a little more connected in a world often void meaningful interactions. However this cynical money grab shakes out, that’s still at the heart of college football, and that won’t change in Manhattan.
I’m not trying to patronize you folks. I attended a small land grant school in rural South Carolina. I’m going to bet most of y’all (depending on your age) saw about as many Clemson games growing up as I saw Kansas State games, and that was fine. Clemson happened to catch fire at exactly the right moment in this entire realignment debacle, because “how many people in California want to watch Clemson play Wake Forest” would have been thrown around freely if this were the Tommy West or Tommy Bowden era of Clemson football. If not for an insanely lucky (and totally unintentional) hiring of Dabo Swinney, Clemson would find themselves in a similar position as Kansas State. A small rural school, in a small (population wise) rural sate with a rabid regional following but not a huge national following. Again, that’s OK because that’s what college football has been about for all but the last 10-15 years of its existence.
Personally, I find talking about things outside the auspices of actual college football to be distasteful. Kansas State doesn’t have to be anything other than Kansas State. Texas and Oklahoma can yearn to be a minor league football teams hosted by a university, but I watch professional football on Sunday, and I’m not sure why I want to watch a watered down version on Saturday. I’m going to save my rant on the impending death of college athletics for another day, but I’ll leave you with this.
Practice starts next week, and Kansas State is going to put an exciting team on the field come September. Don’t let a bunch of self righteous (you can fill in the blank) from Austin and Norman ruin that for you. Show up at the games. Cheer for the good guys. Boo the bad guys. Enjoy the time you spend with friends on Saturday afternoons in the fall, and let other people fight over market saturation and brand recognition. Call me a college football romantic, but I don’t judge a football program by their ability to help ESPN sell E.D. medication and Rogain during their never ending parade of timeouts.
It’s OK to be Kansas State. Don’t let anyone else tell you different.