Realignment Today: Want KU to end up in the Big Ten? Now's a good time to start acting like it belongs
As Kansas football’s first preseason camp under head coach Lance Leipold nears its end, the evaluation of this team remains a work in progress and is expected to continue right up to kickoff on Sept. 3.
But while Leipold and his staff still have plenty to sort out before the opener, would you believe that it’s the Kansas fans that could be the most important part of the 2021 season?
For years, you’ve heard folks from KU’s athletic department — players, coaches and administrators alike — plead with the Kansas fan base to come out and support the Jayhawks’ rebuilding football team.
And for years this program has not always deserved your support.
But it may be more important this year than ever before.
The reason? Conference realignment, of course.
If KU fans are content with decision makers in the Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC tuning in and thinking the Jayhawks have formally changed their school color to silver (the color of the empty bleachers), then they’ll likely continue to leave David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium half empty or worse this fall.
But if they’re interested in making a real statement that KU is and can be a relevant football school again, they’ll pack the place.
It’s as simple as that.
With Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC and sending the college sports world into its latest upheaval, athletic departments and conference officials across the country are anxiously awaiting what comes next.
For now, the eight remaining Big 12 schools are proceeding with the idea that loyalty and a goal of creating a revamped Big 12 Conference is a viable option.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
At the same time, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said he understands that those eight schools are likely to be exploring contingency plans, as well.
At Kansas, the belief held by many Jayhawk fans is that the school’s storied and proud basketball program would be a dream pick-up for any conference.
But realignment is and always has been about football. So the eyes from outside world will likely look past Allen Fieldhouse to what unfolds at the base of Campanile hill this fall.
Even if simply supporting Leipold and the program is not enough to get you out, there are other good reasons for KU fans to come out this fall.
A big one on that list is the opportunity to show and tell Oklahoma exactly how you feel about their decision to leave the conference.
The Sooners are going to get a lot of that this season — and maybe a few bad whistles, too — and KU fans will be missing out big time if they let the point spread of that Oct. 23 contest keep them from letting OU hear it.
When was the last time the Sooners came to Lawrence and experienced a hostile environment? It’s been a minute. Maybe it’ll help.
Besides, KU plays at Texas this season (on Nov. 13), so if the 2021 season winds up being the last go around in the Big 12 for those two football powerhouses, this could be your only chance to say thanks for everything and wish them well. Eye roll.
The rest of the reasons to show up this fall are all about supporting Leipold, new athletic director Travis Goff, the KU players and the program and culture they’re trying to build.
That reason has been in place every year, but there’s more at stake this time around. People are watching. It's not that game attendance will play any real role in any realignment negotiations, more that the optics of looking like a university that gives a damn about football could help and that continuing to show the opposite might hurt.
If KU fans want their basketball program to do battle with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois in the Big Ten or want to do their part to help ensure that KU remains in a power conference, their showing at football games this fall could play a part in making that happen.
It’s show-up-now-or-stay-quiet-later time for Kansas fans.