When a good college sports rivalry ends, we typically cry foul, make a documentary about it, then allow the memories to slip quietly away like strangers in a crowd. But what if that rivalry was born, not out of sportsmanship, but of bloodshed and war?
When a rivalry begins on the fields of battle as opposed to a field of play, you are talking about the rarest kind of rivalry. It is one based on pure hatred, revisionist history and the general belief that you are a better person than the guy living on the other side of the state. The University of Missouri and Kansas University cannot even agree on the actual total record of their football rivalry (Missouri claims a 57-54-9 series lead while KU says it’s 56–55–9).
It has been over three years now since Missouri and Kansas have played in a meaningful sporting event. The two former Big 8/12 brethren were part of one of the purest and most bitter rivalries in college athletics. The University of Missouri decided to explore other options as the conference they once called home began to crumble around them and officially joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012. Kansas fans claimed eternal victory as they stated emphatically that Mizzou took its ball and went home. Tiger fans talked about financial and athletic stability as their rallying cry for why Missouri had the right to claim “scoreboard” on the rivalry which (athletically) dates back to 1891.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self (one of few basketball coaches in the country with his level of clout) has been adamant since Missouri’s departure that he does not have interest in continuing the series.
“They chose to be somewhere else, and that’s fine,” Self said back in 2012. “But when you choose to be somewhere else, you leave a situation behind that’s not the same as when you were in it. Right now it’s not gonna happen.”
Newly appointed Director of Athletics at the University of Missouri Mack Rhoades does not echo Self’s sentiment. “I can’t speak to that — I don’t know what Coach Self thinks or feels,” Rhoades said in a recent interview. “But I think in a perfect world, I’d love to get everybody on board where we’re playing each other in all the different sports.”
The truth is, this rivalry needs to continue. Fans of both teams have talked about how they miss having an adversary to detest as much as these two sides once did. Sure, Missouri has gone on to have tremendous success in the SEC, winning back-to-back division championships in football and upgrading facilities in ways never before possible. And on the flip side, of course, the Kansas Jayhawks have remained a college basketball blue blood with little interest in its fledgling football program. And yet, there is an almost tangible sense of emptiness from both sides, because in sports, it is more fun to have someone to hate. It goes without saying that without a viable antagonist, no movie is quite the same.
Just how much of Kansas’ refusal to play Missouri has been brought on by bitter feelings by losing a former rival? In today’s college athletics landscape, conference re-alignment did a number on many rivalries and yet somehow schools like Clemson/South Carolina, Kentucky/Louisville and Florida/Florida State have always managed to play each other despite being in separate conferences. As it stands today, the ball is in KU’s court. Why should the games cease because a basketball coach doesn’t feel like playing once a year? Fans of both teams (specifically in the Kansas City area) deserve to have their nemesis back in each others lives.
As of now, Mizzou and KU fans are left grasping at straws when it comes to mutual hatred. Tiger fans can laugh at the utter embarrassment that the Kansas football program has become and they can sit idly by and hope the Jayhawk basketball team loses in March. Meanwhile, Kansas can point to Missouri’s underachieving basketball program and hope that the Tigers keep losing SEC Championship games in football. The fact remains, a Thanksgiving weekend football game at Arrowhead Stadium and a December basketball match up at Sprint Center makes all the sense in the world. A rivalry born of bloodshed can never truly disappear, and while a literal “border war” it will never be again, the time for the continuation of a fantastic athletics series is now.