Every time I walk into an arena or a stadium, I have a routine. I go find my seats, then I get food. I’ll usually be on the prowl for chicken fingers or something else with the same tastiness-to-filling ratio. With it, I get my water or beer or if I’m feeling really crazy, a ginger ale. It really doesn’t matter if I’m hungry or not. It’s just what I do. It’s my routine. I find my seats and then I get food.
As I walk back to my seat, I probably eat an unwarranted amount of grub in that impractically-sized cardboard tray they give you when you have too much to hold. If I’m at the game with a larger group, I probably look like a starved man trying to garner one last bite before collapsing, fumbling with four drinks, three hot dogs, and still trying to jam a chicken finger and a French fry into my mouth (usually at the same time).
Then, there’s the tip off or the first pitch or the opening kickoff. It really doesn’t matter which one. Either way, I watch, analyze, yell, cheer, jeer, sneer, scream, and criticize. Whether I go home depressed, ecstatic or anywhere in between, I’m satisfied with the experience. But should a fan go home satisfied after being insulted?
That’s what I was asking myself last weekend when I was at Bill Self’s press conference after Kansas’ heartbreaking loss to Missouri. I wasn’t at the game as a fan, but I was there as media and I witnessed one of the weirder press conference answers I’ve heard in a long time when a reporter asked Self if he felt bad that Missouri and Kansas fans might not get to experience the Border War rivalry anymore after this season.
“I don’t feel bad. Missouri wanted this. So why should I feel bad? I don’t feel bad for anybody. If anybody should feel bad for anybody, it’s the players that don’t get a chance to play in it. But not the fans. The fans, to me, don’t drive the bus at all.”
Missouri of course is leaving for the SEC and Self is always candid – with his thoughts on conference realignment being no exception. He’s right up there with the Boeheim and Calipari elite of brutally honest coaches. So I’m not surprised that he answered that question honestly. And I don’t blame him for doing so. What I find odd is that he actually believes what he said. He genuinely believes that the fans don’t matter, even after commenting positively on the environment of the game that night (which was one of the loudest, most intense atmospheres you’ll see in a regular season college game). But Self doesn’t care.
He doesn’t care about the 17,000 people that show up at Allen Phog Fieldhouse for every game. He doesn’t care about the fanatics going out of their way to tune into Kansas games on television or radio. He doesn’t care about the memorabilia shops or everything and everyone else that make his $3 million annual salary possible. He just doesn’t care and he’s made it abundantly clear.
Maybe Self is still bitter about Missouri leaving nine Big 12 schools out to dry (and who could blame him for that?), but every fan in Columbia and every fan in Lawrence wants Missouri-Kansas to continue out of conference. And even though a home-and-home between the two bitter rivals would bring in loads more revenue for both universities than a matchup with any other school, Kansas won’t do it.
So maybe it is actually true that Bill Self doesn’t care about the fans. He doesn’t care about my routine or my chicken fingers or my out-on-the-limb go-to choice of ginger ale. Isn’t this the greater issue in collegiate sports right now? Conferences are changing and no one seems to care about the effect on the fans. Soon, we’re going to have no more Syracuse-Georgetown, Pittsburgh-West Virginia, and Texas-Texas A&M as we know them. One thing you rarely hear, though: rivalries can survive, flourish, and even intensify out of conference. Just look at Louisville-Kentucky or Xavier-Cincinnati. Those annual games are national events and as Tu Holloway and Yancy Gates might attest, those players and fans genuinely dislike each other. Keeping the Kansas-Missouri rivalry at the same level out-of-conference is more possible than people make it out to be. The issue is just that universities simply don’t care about the fans.
The hypocrisy is apparent. Self is saying the people that provide the money to make him millions of dollars are worthless to him. The problem is that the Kansas coach’s name really does describe him well: Self. And until Bill Self and Kansas realize that they are alienating one of the most loyal fan bases in sports, Missouri’s and Kansas’ rivalry will be gone and I’ll have to find another place to get my chicken fingers.