Kansas City, Mo. — The immediate and tangible impact from Kansas’ 93-87 win over Missouri in an exhibition basketball game in Kansas City is the over $1.8 million it raised for One America Appeal’s hurricane relief efforts.
The money was raised through ticket and pay-per-view sales and will go to help hurricane victims in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The total nearly doubled the initial goal of the two schools and proved that a storied rivalry can survive a five-year hiatus.
A hiatus that needs to come to an end now more than ever.
Kansas and Missouri last played each other in football in 2011 and in men’s basketball in 2012, when Kansas completed a comeback win over the Tigers to seal a regular-season Big 12 title. That year was Mizzou’s final season in the Big 12 before moving to the SEC for the promise of long-term conference stability.
What Mizzou didn’t have in the tenuous Big 12 it has in the SEC. But the move effectively ended a rivalry with the Jayhawks that has roots in the Civil War.
Sunday’s game, an exhibition, doesn’t officially count as a resumption of the rivalry. There was an agreement between teams that no zone defense would be used and the typical five-foul limit was raised to seven. But it was far from a typical exhibition game.
“The atmosphere here was a crazy,” Missouri forward Jordan Barnett said. “It seemed like a potential NCAA Tournament game.”
Since Missouri left the conference, Kansas coach Bill Self has been one of the biggest advocates against keeping the rivalry going. Heck, former Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin even publicly blamed Self for shutting down talks about a resumption of the football series between the teams.
Many Kansas fans view Missouri’s move to the SEC as a betrayal of sorts, as odd as it may sound. Kansas and Missouri had always shared a conference dating back to 1892 and the Western Interstate University Football Association. Sure, they’ve always hated each other. But dammit, they were always in it together until Mizzou left. And even though MU wanted to keep playing, there are many in and around KU that refuse to allow it.
But Self is a big reason why Sunday’s game was even played in the first place. His father, who was in charge of Oklahoma’s high school athletics at the time, wanted college and high school basketball teams to play a charity game for Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. The idea didn’t get approved by the NCAA and never happened.
When the game was announced two weeks ago, Self said it didn’t “have anything to do with playing Missouri” and everything with finding a matchup that would raise the most money. But the Tigers were the matchup that would raise the most money. So yes, the game was about Missouri. It took natural disasters for the teams to meet again.
Two hours before the game the entertainment district across the street from Kansas City’s Sprint Center was jammed with fans clad in black and gold and red and blue. While fans shared common spaces and sat at tables next to each other, there was very little intermingling.
One bar worker guessed the Sunday crowd was “quadruple” what it typically is on a Sunday afternoon. Face value for lower-level tickets were $200 and the cheapest nosebleed seat was $40. Missouri’s student ticket allotment sold out in two minutes and its other allotment sold out in 10.
Since both schools’ donor bases snapped up their halves of the ticket quantity so voraciously, none went on sale to the general public. A pay-per-view service set up Friday for the game netted 17,000 subscriptions at $40 each.
When the teams ran on the court for pregame warmups they each were booed by opposing fans.
“In warmups you could tell just how much juice there was in the building and it was a great atmosphere,” Kansas guard Devonte Graham said.
Self noticed it too.
“It had the feel, but not the importance,” Self said. “I admit, I had butterflies, I was excited to be out there.”
So were the 18,000 in attendance, who took turns trying to drown each other out and attempting to will their teams to victory in what was allegedly a glorified scrimmage. It sure felt important, even if it didn’t count.
The game was Kansas’ first since losing a game away from the Final Four seven months earlier in the same building and a chance to once again assert its basketball dominance over the Tigers. For Missouri, it was fans’ first chance to see Michael Porter Jr., the top recruit in the class of 2017 and a possible No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Porter finished with 21 points in 23 minutes, though he was far from efficient. He took 20 shots and made six. Many of those attempts came as he tried to create his own shot as his four teammates watched.
It took less than a minute into Self’s postgame press conference for a question about the renewal of the rivalry to come up. Was the raucous atmosphere the beginning of a thaw in the freezeout?
While Self was visibly annoyed with the timing of the question, it sure seemed like he left the door open to officially restarting the series more than he has before.
“Well that’s what fans want to know but we’re going to do what’s best for us,” Self said, “We’re not interested in doing what’s best for Missouri or best for Missouri fans, but if it’s best for us to play them, we will. So it’s not a complicated deal. But I figured we’d talk about the game or talk about raising a lot of money — I didn’t think that’d be the second question out of the chute.”
“But I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes. I’m the spokesman I guess but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way. There was a very large contingent of KU people that wasn’t happy we were doing this initially until they realized it was for a good cause. What happens a few years from now certainly is not worth talking or thinking about right now.”
What’s best for Kansas is to play a game every year against the Tigers. And vice versa. Sunday’s game showed they need each other more than they realize, just like Texas and Texas A&M fans will remember what they’re missing when the Longhorns and Aggies play each other in a charity game of their own on Wednesday.
If college sports are about more than wins and losses and athletic departments trying to make the most money, Sunday’s game is a great example of their pageantry and passion. Even as both Self and Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin rotated players and pledged not to switch defenses, their teams fed off the intensity of the crowd.
Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon somehow fouled out even with the limit two above normal and his walk to the bench was met with great appreciation by Jayhawk fans. While it’s fair to say the game was buoyed by its rarity, it’d be a shame if the two teams didn’t schedule another exhibition against each other for a worthy charity in 2018 as it works towards a permanent resumption. After all, it had the feel.
“Of course you want to play the game,” Martin said. “This is a great program, Bill has done a tremendous job … but I think both sides have to agree on something like that.
“You saw the energy behind it. We’ll see.”
– – – – – – –