It’s time for KU to play Wichita State

I was not around for the 1908 showdown between Kansas and Fairmount College – now lovingly known as Wichita State – inside the Henrion Gymnasium on the Fairmount campus. And even if I had been, I probably would have chosen to leave at halftime since KU was on its way to a 65-15 win.

It would be 33 years before the two teams met on the hardwood again, in 1941. I wasn’t at that one, either. Again, the Phog Allen-coached Jayhawks won, 54-39.

KU and Wichita State have met 14 times in basketball over the years and the Jayhawks have won 12. The only exceptions were the Battle of New Orleans in 1981, when a Mike Jones shot late propelled the Shockers into the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament with a 66-65 win over Kansas. You might have heard about it. In fact, you might receive a T-shirt commemorating the victory for Christmas, almost 33 years later.

Wichita State also beat Kansas, 54-49, at Levitt Arena in 1987.

Otherwise, the series has been all Jayhawks.

I covered the game in New Orleans for The Eagle and I covered the three most recent games, from 1991-93.

Those three resulted in KU blowouts by an average margin of almost 38 points. Since Kansas’ 103-54 win over the Shockers at Allen Fieldhouse in 1993, the two teams haven’t met. And if KU coach Bill Self has anything to do with it – and unfortunately, he does – the Jayhawks and WSU will never set foot on the same court again.

You know my view on this. Kansas and Kansas State should be playing Wichita State on a consistent basis. This is a great basketball state and Wichita State has enough tradition to warrant a series with KU and K-State.

Self sees it differently. And apparently so do the powers that be at Kansas State because the Wildcats haven’t haven’t played Wichita State since 2003.

For Self, it’s apparently about Kansas not having anything to gain by playing Wichita State. Whatever that means.

For Kansas State, who knows?

I’m not privy to the discussions that happen in private. I don’t know who has a hang up with who. I don’t know if Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has made an attempt to talk to Self about this. Self says he hasn’t been approached by Marshall and there’s no reason for me to doubt that.

This matter frustrates me. I realize Wichita State became a patsy for Kansas in the past five games between the two teams. KU won them all by at least 20 points.

That’s no fun.

But the Shockers aren’t coached by Mike Cohen and Scott Thompson now. And if Self thinks the Jayhawks have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing Wichita State, he’s thinking about only himself. And nobody else.

Basketball fans want this game. Right? You do want this game? Can you imagine the coverage and excitement a KU-WSU game would elicit? I’m not saying the world stops spinning if Kansas and Wichita State don’t play basketball. But I am saying the world is a better place if they do play. Right, China?

One game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. One game at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita. One game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.

Is that not fair? Is that not accommodating enough for Kansas?

A WSU-KSU series, by the way, should be a straight home-and-home at this point, no ifs, ands or buts.

But Wichita State should make allowances for a series with Kansas. And from what Marshall has been on record saying recently, he’s willing to do so.

From what I can tell, one man stands in the way of this happening. His name is Bill Self. And of all the coaches I’ve ever been around, he’s one of the most logical, sensible, forthcoming, bright, articulate.

His viewpoint on WSU-KU, though, makes me so mad I could scream.

This is about basketball in our state. Kansas is in the discussion with North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana as the best basketball state in the country. We love our hoops. Always have, always will.

But it’s embarrassing to have these two outstanding teams that won’t dance together. Lawrence and Wichita are separated by a 150-mile stretch of turnpike. The basketball teams at KU and WSU are separated by a solar system.

Self won’t budge, bless his heart. In his eyes, there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose.

But Phog Allen played WSU four times. Ted Owens did it once. Larry Brown was at KU for only five seasons, but found it in his heart to play the Shockers three times. Roy Williams scheduled games against Wichita State every year from 1989-93. He later chilled toward playing WSU after the Shockers won a recruiting battle for Wichita Collegiate guard Maurice Evans.

The plug has been sitting in the same place for 20 years.

I don’t know what needs to happen for Kansas and Wichita State to play basketball against one another again. I do believe Self thinks he’s doing the right thing. I just wish he realized this is an issue that is bigger than any coach.

It’s about basketball in Kansas. It’s about basketball fans in Kansas. Please grab that plug and stick it back in.