Squares ruining athletics

Sunday, September 4, 2011

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger comments on the uncertain future of the Big 12

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger comments on the uncertain future of the Big 12 during halftime of KU's game against McNeese State on Sept. 3, 2011, at Memorial Stadium.

It looks as if the days of Kansas University playing in the same conference as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are numbered. Based on the pass defense’s performance in Saturday’s season opener, it’s evident the Jayhawks already are not in the same league as the Sooners and Cowboys.

Pass rush? No. Sound coverage of screens? Nope. Secure deep coverage? Not consistently.

The newcomers generating excitement all played on the offensive side for Kansas. True freshman running back Tony Pierson showed he can run faster than a conference can blow up. OK, maybe not that fast, but the guy’s a burner. Classmate Darrian Miller has the knack for evading tacklers as adeptly as college presidents trick their own athletic administrators. Receiver JaCorey Shepherd, also fresh out of high school, flies, and it doesn’t take him nearly as long to reach his destination as it will take the OU women’s soccer team to reach that all-important game against Washington State.

The three freshmen are the sort of athletes who have what it takes to develop into All-Big 12 selections once they put a year of experience in their brains and a year of muscle on their bodies, except for one problem: There won’t be a Big 12 by then.

The good news as far as improving the pass defense that was the most troubling aspect of a 42-24 victory against McNeese State is that KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little will trust her head football coach, Turner Gill, to fix the problem, and Gill will trust his defensive coordinator, Vic Shealy, to take care of it.

That’s the proper way to do things, and that’s the way all levels of college athletics used to work. Then in 1989, some stuffy, starched-collar clod who used to get picked last on the playground came up with the idea of forming the Knight Commission, which brought presidents into ruining, er, running athletics. They had higher grades in school than athletic directors, so naturally they’re smarter on all topics.

If the presidents had taken care of the more important areas of college, such as, you know, fostering a learning environment, and let their administrators administrate and their coaches coach, schools actually would remain in conferences that enable their loyal alumni to travel to games and keep their non-revenue athletes sitting in classrooms instead of airports making connections for flights from Oklahoma City to Pullman, Wash.

Instead of trying to figure out which school deserves the blame in triggering the dominoes, trace it back to the Knight Commission empowering presidents, demanding they meddle in athletics. That opened the door to egos. To hell with the loyal alumni and the student-athletes, I want to be able to say I rub elbow patches with the top brains at Cal-Berkeley and Stanford, and, man, won’t my friends be impressed? Me, me, me, me, me.

Why is everybody so shocked that this conference realignment fad makes no sense. Why should it? The decision-makers don’t know the first thing about forming sensible athletic conferences.

So Kansas fans can’t just revel in a season-opening victory, warts and all, and reminisce about sweet, hilariously funny old football coach Don Fambrough, who was set to attend the game with his son Preston, but died in the morning. No, they had to make room in their stressed minds for conference uncertainty because the square pegs think they can fit into round holes and don’t have the slightest concept of just how square they really are.