A few months ago, Kansas state Sen. Michael O'Donnell did something politicians are typically loath to do: He tried to legislate a rivalry into existence.
O'Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill that would force both Kansas and Kansas State to schedule Wichita State at least once a season. Initially, O'Donnell proposed making state funding contingent on satisfactory scheduling; he later removed that provision, saying, as the Lawrence Journal-World related, that he "didn’t want his proposal to be confrontational."
The law failed, which surprised nobody -- but neither were many surprised by its introduction in the first place. There's a reason why a politician from Wichita might think it expedient to introduce such a bill: Shockers fans want nothing more than a regular-season shot at Kansas.
A few weeks after O'Donnell introduced his bill, Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz wrote that the Kansas game — or the idea of it — was the "one topic I hear about more than any other."
Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.
I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.
On Monday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expressed that program-wide desire, telling Fox Sports Kansas City that he hoped the game would happen, and that he had offered Kansas a three-game home-and-home series, but that he wasn't "going to be bought … I'm not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check."
Which, yeah, them's fighting words, and on Wednesday Bill Self responded:
Read more here:
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”
Hold on, though, there's more. Self related his experience as coach at Tulsa, when he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to schedule his team.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”
This, of course, is surely the attitude that drives Wichita State fans bonkers -- and the attitude that gives Kansas fans that extra taste of hegemonic joy: We're Kansas and you're Wichita State. Know your place, please. Don't make a fuss. We're not going to play you, because what do we stand to gain? Pipe down. Extra-maddening, no doubt, is that they're right. Even Wichita State fans, who can do no more than turn Marshall's old use of the term "chickenhawks" into a message board/school yard insult, would have to agree with such an obvious dynamic.
But college basketball schedules need not always be about sheer strategic or monetary gain. You can be pragmatic, and live in the real world, and still remember why the whole regional sports fandom thing kicked off in the first place: because it's fun.
Look how hot the Kansas-Wichita State rivalry is sans actual basketball. Maybe O'Donnell's law is a good idea after all.