KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Let's get the smarty-pants nicknames for Kansas State's 24-23 win Saturday over Iowa State out of the way early:
Farmageddon. The Basement Bowl. The Game Neither Team Deserved to Win.
Today's topic — the future of the Big 12 North — isn't a laughing matter.
This merits some serious discussion, especially after seeing these two teams draw barely enough fans (40,000) to outnumber the empty seats (39,000) at Arrowhead Stadium.
Iowa State, Kansas State and Colorado are at a major crossroads in their football futures.
While the Big 12 has progressively grown more powerful, these three schools have combined for eight losing seasons over the past three years. The only winning mark was K-State's 7-6 in 2006.
ISU and KSU changed coaches for 2009. Colorado might be on the verge of switching after a 1-3 start that looks like it will grow to 1-5 with No. 2 Texas and No. 18 Kansas just ahead.
Those from the sunny side of the street will argue all this is cyclical and that schools with past success will find it again by staying the course.
But staying the course not only isn't good enough any more, it's more difficult than ever — especially for what we'll call the Big 12's “50,000-seater'' schools.
What are 50,000-seaters? The schools with football stadiums of about that capacity — ISU (55,000), CU (53,750), KSU (50,000) and Baylor (50,000).
Why does size matter?
It's all about money, and what a school can raise going forward in an economic era that appears to have changed fundamentally for the worse in athletics with budget cuts and declining donations.
Maybe the simplest way to explain it is with a few numbers.
Texas, the financial big dog of the Big 12 South Division, makes about $7 million for a home football game with its expansion to 101,000 seats. Nebraska, the North equivalent, makes about $4.5 million with its 85,000 seats.
What do the 50,000-seaters get? About $1.2 million to $1.5 million.
Multiply that differential by seven games a year, stretch that over four or five years and you can see why Texas has flat-screen TVs in its football complex bathrooms while other schools are happy to find soap and paper towels.
Football and the television contracts signed because of it produce the majority of the money for all college athletics. As proof, check these 2007-08 fiscal year revenue totals:
Texas: $120.3 million overall, $72.9 million football.
Nebraska: $75.5 million overall, $49.1 million football.
Kansas State: $48.2 million overall, $21.9 million football.
Iowa State: $38.6 million overall, $17.4 million football.
When the Big 12 was formed in 1996, it consisted of four financial big shots — Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Missouri has methodically worked its way into the “haves'' category, while three others — Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas — have aggressively spent their way into that club to take advantage of recent football success.
OSU, with Boone Pickens' oil money, has increased its capacity from 45,000 to 60,000. Texas Tech, at 52,000 seats, is working on a 10,000-seat expansion.
Kansas, at 50,071 now, will build a 3,000-seat Gridiron Club luxury tower that is expected to produce $40 million in revenue.
Where does all this leave Iowa State, Kansas State and Colorado? In trouble.
Cyclones Athletic Director Jamie Pollard got a huge break when his supposed superstar hire, Gene Chizik, packed up his 5-19 record and left for Auburn last winter.
Hiring Paul Rhoads is a good first step. But it's only the first step in a long road ahead, with no shortcuts evident and no monster money flowing in.
Kansas State has asked program savior Bill Snyder to repeat the Manhattan Miracle. But this isn't 1989.
Snyder, who turns 70 on Wednesday, doesn't have an administrative blank check this time. He may not have any checks after KSU finishes paying off all the secret insider deals it made the past few years. Also, this is the booming Big 12, not the sleepy old Big Eight.
The level of play Saturday between KSU and ISU didn't generate any hope for fast turnarounds at either school.
Colorado is in the deepest trouble of all, with the Dan Hawkins hire looking more like a mistake every day.
The Buffaloes are carrying millions in athletic debt, and seem to have lost the ace-in-the-hole boosters who can change things quickly.
But don't tell me CU can't afford to buy out Hawkins if he posts a fourth straight losing season. CU can't afford not to make a change. If you struggle to recruit and the fan base has lost hope, it takes two years to recover for every year the wrong hire is kept in place.
Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri followers who take delight in seeing their North brethren struggle might be careful what they wish for.
The North already is the weaker of the two divisions. If it tips way out of balance internally, that might finally get the Big 12 to look at realigning divisions.
Contact the writer: