The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Kansas Jayhawks Represent Everything Wrong, Right With College Athletics

Ah, the changing of the seasons. For most Grinnell students, the annual transition from fall to winter brings to mind thoughts of newly barren trees, biting wind, gossamer snow flakes gracefully descending from their celestial realm, and avowedly sub-free first years timidly chugging Hawkeye for the very first time. But for the three or four Grinnell students who follow sports that they don’t play, Old Man Winter’s arrival signals the coming of the college basketball season and the conclusion of college football. It’s a change that can’t happen fast enough for the Kansas Jayhawks, whose football season is currently imploding but whose basketball team is ranked first in the nation and favored to win the national title. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times—it’s a tale of two sports, two programs that are run very differently by very different coaches that are each emblematic of how to succeed (or fail) in college athletics. I know that following only a single school risks boring what few readers remain here at word 184, but please, at least read this while you poop.
Under the heavy tutelage of Coach Mark Mangino, Kansas Football has gone from oxymoron to a watermark of national prominence that many perennial powers haven’t reached for decades. In 2007, the Jayhawks went 12-1 and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, garnering Coach Mangino shared Coach of the Year honors with Missouri’s Gary Pinkel. Mangino’s subsequent hefty contract extension certainly did earn him a fat paycheck to help put food on the table, but the 2008 season left fans hungry. Despite returning the offensive nucleus of the previous year’s team, the ‘hawks only made it to the Insight Bowl, where they beat Minnesota. This year, Mangino’s (very plump) goose might be cooked. After starting the year in the Top 25 and reaching as high as Number 16, the Jayhawks have dropped five in a row, including losses to lowly Colorado and in-state rival Kansas State. Mangino has even dabbled in benching three-year starting quarterback Todd Reesing, a one-time Heisman contender and the face of the program’s recent success. Their next two games are on the road at Texas, where they’ll be lucky to even put points on the board, and at Arrowhead Stadium against the Missouri Tigers, who just took down the aforementioned KSU Wildcats. If the Jayhawks do not reach bowl eligibility, it’s no reason to fire Mangino. However, internal investigations into Mangino’s conduct, including issues of player abuse and other angry outbursts that have surfaced over the years, might provide plenty of reasons to fire him and dump his already corpulent list of off-field issues. It goes without saying that football’s culture is largely one of masculine posturing and chauvinism, but there’s a line between “manly” toughness and outright abuse—if Mangino crossed it, he should not stay, regardless of his team’s success. Even without these issues, a 5-7 season would likely send Mangino packing.
As for Kansas basketball, Coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks also know a thing or two about about controversy. First there was a hubbub over possible NCAA violations in the recruitment of 2011 NBA Rookie of the Year Xavier Henry and his 38 year-old brother—next was the famous series of brawls between the football and basketball in which guard Tyshawn Taylor injured his hand throwing a punch—last was guard Brady Morningstar’s DUI arrest, which resulted in his suspension for the first half of the season. However, Coach Self’s Jayhawks have not been subject to the scrutiny and chaos of their football counterparts for two reasons: Self has not been subject to any serious controversy like Mangino, which keeps the program stable and projects a front of tranquility, and, more importantly, they will get it done on the court. Despite a close call Tuesday night against Memphis, the Jayhawks return too much firepower, and have too good a freshman class, not to be considered favorites for the national title. I’m not going to say they’re a lock for the Final Four, but I would be shocked if they’re ranked worse than, say, fifth all season.
The Jayhawks’ programs are different because Bill Self is scrupulous, disciplined, and handles himself adroitly with the media, his staff, and, most importantly, his players, while Mark Mangino is angry, potentially abusive, and has a face like a groundhog peeking out above a stack of pancakes. Personality matters a lot in a coach, but as always, winning comes first. For Self, that axiom equals a long career in Lawrence; for Mangino, perhaps one that is reaching its denouement.

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