Because you can’t get enough conference realignment, here is a double dose of questions and answers with Kansas State president Kirk Schulz:
First off, what is it like around the office right now? Are people a little anxious about all this?
I think certainly a little anxious is a good way to put it. We knew there was going to be some time of significant discussion after the Big 12 presidents meeting last week. The way things are unfolding and with the Pac-10 being as aggressive as it is, our fan base is certainly apprehensive.
Does the pure amount of speculation out there surprise you at all?
This doesn’t surprise me a great deal. We could see it coming to a head. With the Big 10 starting the discussion and the Pac-10 really accelerating it’s time table. The Big 12 has some decisions that we simply must make. We need to get some long term resolution for Big 12 membership. It’s probably good that this happened. We just need to settle it and move on.
What is the best possible scenario for K-State?
The best possible scenario is that Nebraska and Missouri elect to stay in the Big 12 and feel that is the best place for them to compete. After that the Texas schools will also remain a member of the Big 12 conference. The ideal situation is that within a month we have firm commitments from all the Big 12 schools and we get to move on to a new media contract and continue to compete in what I believe is one of the best conferences in the country.
Are you reaching out to either of them and asking them to stay?
If there is anybody associated with Kansas State that is also associated with Nebraska, we have asked them to call. We have certainly asked coach (Bill) Snyder about visiting with folks, as well as Governor Mark Parkinson. We’ve tried to use as many of those positive connections as possible in a positive sense. We have no desire to threaten. We’re just trying to remind people of the wonderful history of the Big 12 going back to the Big Eight, and the geographical proximity is a huge issue. Right now, our student athletes, when they leave to go play women’s tennis or volleyball they drive and in two hours they’re in Lincoln. In the Big 12 North, it’s really easy to get around. I’m concerned that’s being forgotten as people look around at all these wonderful conference alignments. You have to move these students around during that time. These students are missing class during that time. These big, far-flung conferences might look good for football but I worry about the impact on the students.
As a university president, how much does that bother you?
I think for football, to be honest, we play a certain amount of games and charter a jet and put everybody on it. We could play anywhere in the country. Not that big a deal. But all the Olympic sports, you can’t imagine people leaving early in the morning, competing and being back home that night. Some of those three time-zone conferences, it’s going to take a couple days to play conference opponents. There are broader issues, I hope as people around the Big 12 are looking at all this they remember we have a pretty nice north/south configuration that makes travel fairly easy for us.
You and John Currie are both about relatively new to all this. Does that make dealing with conference realignment easier or harder?
I don’t think the time that John and I have been on the job is really affecting anything all that much. We come from a fresh perspective, and we can offer different insights.
Last time I asked, K-State hadn’t spoken with any outside conferences about possible membership. Has that changed?
It has not. We’re focusing our energies now on Missouri and Nebraska. We can talk all kinds of contingencies in two weeks if there appears there is some type of breakup in the conference. But right now we’re focusing all of our energies on keeping the Big 12 intact first. We’ll look at different possibilities after that. But we’re committed to staying in the BCS conference and competing at the highest level of Division I. We sure hope that can be in the Big 12. That will be paramount to our future success.
Say something happens and K-State has to leave the Big 12, how much would that change things for the university as a whole?
I think it could affect us a great deal. There are lots of scenarios that are being discussed, and KU and K-State are not included in any of those. Both schools have been used to competing and being recognized in both athletics and academics while being in a premier sports league. If, for some reason, you’re no longer there it affects the academics, it affects our ability to attract students and it affects our ability to attract national visibility. All those things tie together. It is really, really important that we find a good resolution for both schools.
Do you believe KU and K-State are together in this no matter what?
I do. I’ve been in communication with (Kansas) chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. I know John and Lew Perkins have been talking on a daily basis. We feel it’s very, very important that whatever solution is out there it will have KU and K-State competing against each other in the same athletic conference.
If the Big 12 doesn’t make it, do you have a contingency plan ready to go?
I won’t tell you that I have a contingency plan right now. John, as you would expect any athletic director to do, is in conversations with a tremendous number of schools out there. But I can tell you that we’ve had no direct communications with another conference, nor will we until we find out what’s going to happen with Missouri and Nebraska.
Do you feel like you’re waiting on the sidelines while all this happens?
We’re doing everything we can to be proactive, but we don’t have a firm decision that we can make that’s going to make a big difference. It’s frustrating to be on the sidelines while all this other stuff is going on that could greatly affect K-State and KU. That’s the way the rules are written. We’re going to use every bullet in our gun to be proactive, and that’s all we can do.
Does it frustrate you that a league as successful as the Big 12 is the subject of all this speculation?
It is frustrating. We’ve had one of our football teams in the national championship game several times. Our basketball teams have done very well and the University of Kansas is one of the marquee basketball programs in the country. I look at the success the big 12 has had as a whole and it’s really baffling. At the same time, I think this will secure some commitments long term from our members. At that point, hopefully we can say to people: “Stay away from the Big 12. We’re good the way we are. Go pick on someone else.”
Kansas claims basketball, Colorado says it can provide the Denver market and Baylor is counting on political ties in Texas to pull through this. What would you say sets K-State athletics apart?
I think clearly some of our success in football previously is a pretty big selling point. It’s also what have you done for me lately, and our men’s basketball program is definitely on the rise with the top 10 finish last year. We’re going to be ranked in the top five next year. Those things really sell. If you look at some of these other schools outside the Big 12 they have stadiums that hold 35,000 and when they sell out they say, “Look at us, we’re doing pretty good.” Whereas we look at that and say, “Wow, what a terrible crowd.” I think the fans bring some passion and enthusiasm to the table that is really critical.