SI Vault
 
Futility U
Douglas S. Looney
September 04, 1989
KANSAS STATE WINLESS SINCE 1986, HAS ONE CLAIM TO FAME: IT IS AMERICA'S MOST HAPLESS TEAM
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 04, 1989

Futility U

KANSAS STATE WINLESS SINCE 1986, HAS ONE CLAIM TO FAME: IT IS AMERICA'S MOST HAPLESS TEAM

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Ironically, there are two reasons why the Wildcats just might develop a snarl—and one major reason they might not. For openers, Parrish made about $90,000 a year; Snyder will make around $200,000—and a bunch more in incentives if he's a winner. Assistant coaches were earning between $29,000 and $47,000 in 1988; now they are making between $34,000 and $62,000, close behind their colleagues at Oklahoma and Nebraska. The recruiting budget has been increased from $175,000 in 1988 to $300,000. Overall, the football budget has gone from $2.3 million last year to $2.95 million this year. Included in there is $100,000 for Snyder to spend any way he sees fit.

Miller, who was assured of greater support from the university when he became AD in Manhattan a year ago, is spending $625,000 to expand and remodel the football offices, $200,000 to enlarge the indoor workout facility, $600,000 for new artificial turf and $2 million for a new press box to replace the temporary one that was built in 1967 and is still in use. "You either call all this a deficit," says Miller, "or an investment in the future. I say it's an investment in the future."

Another good sign is that the whining has stopped in Manhattan. Miller, who will tolerate no negativism, says, "What we have said for all these years was that it was O.K. to be bad. Well, it's not O.K. anymore." University president Jon Wefald says, "We can turn this program around," and points to Lee Iacocca for inspiration. (Of course, Chrysler still had wheels on it when Iacocca arrived.) The players seem to be picking up on this cautious optimism. Defensive back Marcus Miller says, "Hopefully, we will pull off some miracles and go to the Orange Bowl." Safety Erick Harper says, "I look at Oklahoma and I only see three major differences—they look bigger, they look faster, and they look better."

One bad omen is that Kansas simply doesn't have enough talented football bodies. There are 19 four-year, football-playing colleges in the state, plus nine junior colleges. But according to a 1981 NCAA study, only 570 Kansas high school graduates who have played football are available each season to the 30 teams. This is the lowest ratio in the nation. Conversely, talent- and population-rich Florida has 3,992 players available for the state's seven football schools. And the growth of national recruiting by the major powers means that Kansas hotshots are easily wooed to schools that play on national TV and go to bowl games.

What more's to be done? Michigan's Bo Schembechler says, charitably, "They just need one spark." Oklahoma State's Pat Jones says, "They just have to hammer away." And Jim Dickey, now an assistant coach at Florida, says, "It will be very, very difficult, but if they are very, very lucky, then possibly they will have a chance." Glen Stone, a former K-State publicist who's now at TCU, says of the Wildcats' plight, "I don't think there is a solution. But just because there are no answers is no reason to quit trying."

Of course, it is exasperating to Wefald and others that losing football has made K-State famous. Wefald points out that in the last 15 years the school has had five Rhodes scholars, which puts Kansas State in the top 1% of all universities in the U.S. in that regard; and since 1979 it has had 14 Truman scholars, more than any other state university, and trailing only Harvard, Stanford and Yale. Last year, the College Football Association found that Kansas State was one of only 13 major Division I-A schools with a graduation rate of more than 70% for its football players; the average was 49.8%. And the school's debate team ranks third in the country. But then you knew that. Says Wefald, "We're on a roll. We're doing fine in everything—except football."

Which prompts one question: Why bother? Why send fine young men onto the field every Saturday in autumn to be humiliated? The answer is simple: "I don't think the Big Eight would want us if we didn't play football," says AD Miller, and though KSU could appeal its banishment, it is generally agreed that if Kansas State were to drop football, the Big Eight would just as quickly drop K-State. That would be a shame for both the school and the league: The K-State men's basketball team has won the conference championship 10 times, more than any other school, and ranks sixth nationally in the number of NCAA tournament appearances; the women's basketball program has had one losing season in 21 years, and its six league titles are tops in the Big Eight.

In other words, the football team is sacrificed for those who cannot imagine Big Eight basketball without the Wildcats. Snyder, predicting the future, says. "We will be as good as we can be, and we will not be 0-11." Stay tuned.

1 2 3