Conference Calls: Here We Go Again . . .

Even with no Division I college football program of its own, Kansas City has much at stake as college athletics realign—again.

By Dennis Boone

For nearly 90 years after their 2007 alliance, an association of collegiate athletic programs known as the Big 8 Conference called Kansas City their home. In February 1994, following the implosion of the old Southwest Athletic Conference, the Big 8 generously opened its southern border to four Texas refugees of the SWAC: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor.

And, as they say, no good deed . . .

In a sign of what was to come regarding the way college athletics defines gratitude and favors the haves over the have-nots, members of the newly formed Big XII called for a vote on where the conference headquarters should be. Almost predictably, the Texans—abetted by Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Colorado—stuck it to the member schools who had graciously taken them in.

A lot of pom pons have been shaken by the seismic forces of college athletics in the years since. In 2010, Nebraska left for the Big Ten. A year later, Missouri and Colorado jumped in different directions—Mizzou to the Southeastern Conference; Colorado to the Pac-12. Texas A&M, tired of playing second-string to the Longhorns in their home state, later bolted to the SEC. 

And, last year, Texas and Oklahoma decided to follow suit.

Mind you, Kansas City lost its claim to the conference headquarters on a 7-5 vote. For those of you keeping score, that makes three schools—Texas, Colorado and A&M—who were among the majority in that block, but are no longer part of the conference. Thanks, guys.

About the only gratification we might find in that vote’s outcome is that neither Colorado nor A&M (save for a couple of blips on the radar, courtesy of Johnny Manzeil) have done much to burnish their credentials as national football powers since deserting the Big XII. One might hope, fervidly, that the same fate awaits Texas and Oklahoma in a vastly stronger SEC.

Working past that dose of lingering bitterness, perhaps we should look at the college athletics landscape today as another opportunity for the Kansas City area to reclaim some lost stature. Consider that the current realignment mania touched off last month with the ridiculous notion that Southern Cal and UCLA have deemed the Big Ten their best home going forward.

Thus, we have the nation’s first nationwide super-conference, running from the beaches of the Pacific to the Atlantic dunes near Rutgers in New Jersey. The California schools’ desertions instantly touched off speculation that the Big XII—still working to digest its latest expansion with Cincinnati, South Florida, Houston and BYU by 2025—might make a play for some of those rowing the Pac-12 lifeboats.

If that happens, we get a second nationwide conference, perhaps including the two Arizona schools, Oregon and Washington, as well as Utah and—if one can believe the sense of irony—Colorado, again.

The downside? Early talk of a 16-team Big XII hints of leaving out in the cold three programs that had long been key figures in the old Big 8—KU, K-State and Iowa State—as well as relative newcomer West Virginia, once the music stops playing and 20 candidate programs discover that the room is short four chairs. That’s the same kind of talk we heard before about conference reshuffling, and the local schools have weathered that speculation; there’s not a lot of credibility to the thought that newcomers from the desert or the Pacific Northwest will displace the heartland programs.

Back to that potential upside. Get a map of the country and draw one line from Seattle to Orlando, then another from Tucson to Morgantown, W.Va., the most distant compass points for such a super conference. The city closest to where those lines intersect? Well, yes, a wisenheimer might note that it’s somewhere in the Flint Hills, perhaps Cassoday or Matfield Green. But as headquarters-level cities go, Kansas City marks the spot.

That centrality could yield a heck of an opportunity to extend this city’s long dominance as host of the Big 8 and Big XII basketball tournaments (and, occasionally, the Big XII football title game). And perhaps ease some of the wounded pride inflicted by the Texas newcomers in 1994 then, three years later, the loss of the NCAA’s headquarters to Indianapolis.

As the roulette wheel of conference realignment continues to spin, methinks this is a great time to make civic plans for wining and dining university presidents and athletic directors from half a dozen schools. We need to sell them on all the reasons why their next conference headquarters should have a Kansas City-area ZIP code.

I just hope that excess consumption of sushi hasn’t dulled their palates to the wonder that is barbecue . . .

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