The calendar has turned to March, and with it come certain expectations. For example, temperatures above freezing, and the Kansas Jayhawks cruising to another Big 12 title. But this year — not so much. Commentator Victor Wishna faces the cold reality in this month’s edition of “A Fan’s Notes.”
When the Kansas Jayhawks take on the Oklahoma Sooners tonight, they will do so as underdogs. Not in the game — they’re slight favorites. But the odds that they will win their record 15th consecutive Big 12 conference championship are ... less than even.
If you’re a Kansas fan, you know this. You’ve known it for awhile. You probably wish people would stop talking about it. (Well, sorry.)
The fact is, KU is a very good team with a corps of young talent and a $5-million-a-year coach. Regardless of what happens this week, anything is still possible — including a run at a national championship.
So why does it matter so much? That, I can tell you in one word: Dynasty.
If the underdog is the sentimental hero of any sports narrative, the dynasty is that impenetrable fortress on the hill — the behemoth that, more often than not, can not be beaten.
Every sport and every decade has at least one: The Oakland A’s of the 1970s, the Edmonton Oilers and San Francisco 49ers of the '80s, the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees of the '90s, the New England Patriots of, well, the 2000s, the 2010s, and counting.
For the last decade and almost-a-half, KU basketball has been the reigning regional superpower, claiming at least a share of the conference title 14 seasons in a row. Heck, in the 22 years since the Big 12 was established, the Jayhawks have won it 18 times. Over that span, four schools have left the league altogether, two more have joined, and KU has cruised along, above them all — at least until late March.
Thus the reputation of Kansas basketball fans, you know, as both a little spoiled and overly anxious is well-earned. After the recent thrashing at Texas Tech — the Jayhawks’ most lopsided Big 12 loss under Bill Self — my friend’s son told me, “Uch, the season’s over.”
The kid’s 11 years old. The last time KU failed to finish first, he was negative 3.
Of course, while coaches love to talk about adversity, there’s no doubt it’s been a rough year for KU basketball. They started the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation. But then: An FBI investigation, suspension, season-ending injury, player family issues — all leading to a depletion of experience on the court. The current starting five, four freshmen and a transfer, weren’t even on the team last year.
So now, as this final week of conference play began, KU had anywhere from a seven to a 17 percent chance of finishing No. 1, according to the websites that tease us with such forecasts. Which means KU might still just Tom-Brady this whole thing and come out on top. Either way, there’s still the tournament — or tournaments: The Big 12, the "Big Dance." There is always next week.
Sure, sports, with its rules and supposedly level playing field, is supposed to offer an escape from the latest injustices of daily life. But fair play doesn’t mean parity. For better or worse, dynasties are what make the contrived drama of athletic competition a little more realistic, playing out over years.
The powers-that-be, like to be. And no dynasty ever expects to fall.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.