McCartney suggests that Oklahoma and Nebraska ought to "play each other in the first or second conference game [instead of generally at season's end] and take the wind out of somebody's sails."
Kansas AD Bob Frederick thinks the conference also has to rethink the way gate receipts are shared. Currently a visiting school's maximum share is $175,000. But Frederick has figured out that if the Nebraska gate were shared on a 50-50 basis, his school would have come out with $450,000. "This is an area that has to be revisited," he says, though it's doubtful Oklahoma and Nebraska would want to revisit it with him.
This is not to say that the Little Six are poverty-stricken. Surprisingly, Kansas leads the conference in athletic fund-raising with $2.6 million this past year. The Jayhawks have a hard core of more than 3,400 active boosters (and a winning basketball program), and the Kansas campus boasts a spectacular new indoor practice facility. Oklahoma State recently spent $500,000 on new artificial turf. Throughout the Big Eight, facilities are better than good enough to attract a prospective football player.
Nor do the schools, again to their credit, cry much about underpopulation or bad climate. After all, no cruise ships depart from Norman or Lincoln, either. Boulder is the only town in the league that wins beauty contests, and that is not nearly enough of an edge.
And while tradition is often cited as a factor in successful programs, it ain't necessarily so. All tradition is to many an 18-year-old is who won last year. You can bet most of the Oklahoma players have no idea who Billy Vessels was; at Nebraska the name Johnny Rodgers would evoke mostly blank stares.
Nope, the answer lies largely in the numbers. Parrish stares out across his football stadium and shakes his head. "Can you imagine?" he says. "We have so few players that in practice we can't hit in the hittingest league. There is no competition for positions. So it all adds up to one thing. Losing on Saturday."
Compare that with the talent glut at Oklahoma, where second stringer Rotnei Anderson stepped in for the injured Carr against Oklahoma State to run for 191 yards on 30 carries.
But over at the Kansas locker room—not far from the sign that lists winning the Orange Bowl as this year's goal, offensive lineman Jim Davis is unbowed: "There are no better programs in America than Nebraska and Oklahoma, and we get the chance to play them every year. That's a great opportunity." Now that is truly the college spirit.