MU-KU hoops exhibition would be a thriller in itself but could have bigger meaning

By Vahe Gregorian

It took a convergence of multiple regime changes at the University of Missouri, a pause and bend in a previously unyielding stance of Kansas coach Bill Self and natural disasters.

And who knows what other indulgences of circumstance and efforts of go-betweens?

But a century after it started and forever ago since the 267-game series ended abruptly with Mizzou’s departure for the Southeastern Conference after the 2012 season, the KU-MU basketball void in the local sports landscape is on the verge of being rekindled.

So what if it might be fleeting in a game that won’t count?

If the schools indeed have the will to bring their talks to fruition and get the NCAA waiver they’d need to play a hurricane relief fundraising exhibition game at the Sprint Center, this would be a monumental breakthrough in a hallowed rivalry gone dormant and sour in the wake of MU’s move.

It also has win-win-win-win-win elements to it: for hurricane relief, for each school, for Kansas City and for a potential future.

The game, possibly to be played on Oct. 22, presumably would be a financial bonanza for the cause … though that would fall flat if the desperate situation in Puerto Rico isn’t prioritized in the effort.

It undoubtedly would energize the area and figures to intrigue and lure even many Kansas fans who have said good riddance to MU and have declared they want no part of resuming the rivalry.

And it would come at a time Mizzou’s visibility has been ebbing here in the aftermath of its sports programs literally turning to face south and east and away from a city where it once had far more resonance because of its proximity and presence at the epicenter of the Big 6, 7, 8 and 12 basketball tournaments.

It also would happen as Kansas enters the season figuring to be a national title contender, as usual, and the MU program appearing reinvigorated with the hiring of Cuonzo Martin and a celebrated recruiting class highlighted by Michael Porter Jr., the nation’s top recruit.

Without this baby step, the only hope they’d meet was in the NCAA Tournament by some contrivance of fate.

For all the upside to this, though, this is merely a moment in time.

And it won’t have much lasting meaning if it doesn’t become part of a future conversation between the schools.


But on the flip side, as Self likes to say, there is this:

The key reason KU has declined to play MU since MU left isn’t the oft-stated “they left us, why should we do them any favors?”

It was a breach of trust in which the administration at Kansas felt deceived and betrayed by Missouri in the run-up to its decision with the Big 12 itself teetering in jeopardy.

Particularly in that context, Mizzou’s attempts to extend olive branches of sorts — including stating its intention to explore playing an annual football game against a “traditional rival” at Arrowhead Stadium and creating an annual basketball tournament in KC with other rivals — only further angered KU officials.

That sentiment seemed to only intensify as Mizzou’s administration changed.

As recently as a few weeks ago, second-year MU athletic director Jim Sterk told The Star a call to KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger resulted in Zenger saying it wouldn’t happen in the “foreseeable future.” And Self has consistently said he has no interest.

Wherever the blame is to be laid, the result was the demise of an institution unto itself — a unique relationship that at its best was almost symbiotic and provided thousands of rich memories on both sides of the border.

In 30 years in this business, any top 25 of events I’ve covered, maybe even top 10, immediately includes the home-and-home series in 2011-2012 and the 2007 football game between the teams.

Not because of who won or lost but the stakes and the passion that came with the exclusive relationship.

Something important was lost.

But now there is a new baseline, a potential foundation for rebuilding trust between the two.

Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a discussion, not a one-hit wonder that comes to pass only because of several remarkable developments at once and then fades back into limbo and apathy.

That would be a shame and a waste of a thaw in the relationship.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

More from this section