LAWRENCE, Kan. — The woman was a Kansas fan, of course.
She wore a KU pullover that had the Jayhawk logo stitched on her left breast and she sat comfortably in a chair just a floor above the entrance to the Phog. She was working on game day inside Allen Fieldhouse, an unbeknownst sign of her fandom.
It was Saturday, Jan. 30, and Kansas was set to face Kentucky in the primetime showcase of the 2015-16 Big 12/SEC challenge — an event Missouri wasn't selected to play in.
This was the matchup of the two biggest blue bloods — the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball. I was sitting in a jam-packed corner of the arena with history that's synonymous to the game of basketball itself, and with the clock ticking down toward tipoff, I thought it would be interesting to ask the woman her thoughts about that rivalry across the border.
“You're a student at Missouri and they let you in here,” she said, jokingly, when I introduced myself.
She continued: “I've always been a big fan of the rivalry, I really have. But when they moved out of the Big 12, it was like, good riddance."
That was the mindset of the 10-plus Kansas fans and event staffers I talked to on the historic night — and yes, it was just that.
It was historic in the sense that Kansas basketball prevailed in a game that featured the unveiling of the official rules former Kansas coach James Naismith once wrote at halftime. It was historic in the sense that the Jayhawks won and are now 201-9 at home under Bill Self. It was historic in the sense that it seemed as if every single person affiliated in some sense with the university seemed to stop and watch their school play a basketball game.
There's no way you could say the same for Missouri, as they hosted Mississippi State on Saturday for a battle of the Southeastern Conference worsts. The Tigers lost by 14.
So, as the team in blue and red held 16,300 for an eardrum-thumping, chill-inducing, mouth-opening showcase of great basketball, the team in black and gold performed in a manner that those around the country have become accustomed to in recent years. Even Dick Vitale of ESPN said Saturday, “Well, Missouri isn't Missouri right now,” and the Kansas fans concur.
“That's the problem,” a Kansas fan who said he owns an ice business in both states said. “What's the benefit for KU? Right now, it's how I look at games in Wichita. What is the benefit for us to go play them?”
He has a point. Even on a night that featured John Calipari and Tyler Ulis and the rest of the star-studded Kentucky cast, Self wasn't that amused. It was a nonconference game in planted smack dab in the middle of conference play, and Self wasn't the biggest fan.
“It was a good game, but the time doesn't give it the same juice,” Self said post-game. “I didn't think (the crowd) was as good as OU.”
Just a good game? Only one overtime, not two like Oklahoma. My bad. Not the same juice? The crowd hit over 118 decibels on the meter. So we can agree to disagree, coach Self.
Self is a Big 12 guy as are many-a-Kansas fan, and maybe that's the issue. Maybe the way Mizzou left is why there's no more rivalry. Maybe the commitment to football has crushed the Border War. Or maybe, just maybe, there's no benefit for Kansas to play Missouri. Maybe for a school that prides itself solely on basketball, the matchup is unnecessary to Kansas’ goals as a basketball team year-in and year-out.
"We're not scared to play them,” said Anthony Rittof, a KU graduate student. “I respect their tradition, and I understand the questions, but is it that necessary?"
A week ago, Self spoke to the rivalry, telling David Ubben that “(the ball) is probably in our court on who should make the next move."
The longer Big Jay and Truman go without talking and the longer the ball is dribbled without switching hands, there's no reason to believe a move will be made.
The majority of Kansas fans have moved on and Missouri hasn't given them a reason to look back.
And for that reason, this should impact Missouri fans the hardest.