This column appeared Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in The Manhattan Mercury.
Late Sunday afternoon, the day before the Kansas Day Big Monday game with KU, as I was leaving Starbucks in Aggieville, in walked Fran Fraschilla. We made eye contact and because my mama raised me to be polite, I welcomed the coach to Manhattan and engaged him in one of those tête-à-têtes that are good for one self-serving social media post.
At the end of our brief exchange, Fraschilla said something cryptic about Bruce Weber that only now, weeks later, is beginning to make sense.
“He runs a clean program.”
The implication, or at least the inference I drew was that Fraschilla is familiar with many who don’t. As the lead analyst for Big 12 basketball on ESPN, I’ll chalk the man up as credible.
A couple weeks later, news broke that the ongoing FBI probe of corruption in college basketball could turn out to be a thing. Players from more than 20 of the nation’s top programs have been implicated in all manner of alleged nefariousness and NCAA rule-breaking.
Division 1 college sports is big business, even in li’l ol’ Manhattan, Kansas. Just look at the all the new K-State athletic department capital improvements that have sprung up in the last decade, with more in the pipeline. Jon Wefald’s ‘front porch’ is beginning to look like the lobby in Trump Tower.
We all know the chronology of these things. First scandal, followed by outrage, then reform. Reform often occurs in direct proportion to the level and ferocity of the outrage. A cynic might say this will give coaches, university presidents and athletic directors sufficient cover to say all the right things, without being forced into difficult decisions.
Change occurs when people within a system believe the status quo is untenable. When the quantity of people reaches a critical mass, the belief can turn into action.
The NBA Commissioner is making noises about changing ‘one and done.’ Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission may recommend real reform. One idea has already been floated: treat college athletes like Olympic athletes, with the ability to secure representation, sponsorships and endorsements.
Here in Manhattan, we haven’t faced the problems like the ones you read about connected to the big name basketball power schools. Maybe there’s a blessing to being a small land grant in flyover country.
Michael Beasley had more pure talent than anyone I’ve seen play at K-State. We all knew he was one and done when Dalonte Hill recruited him off the mean streets of Prince George’s County. He’s had a journeyman’s NBA career, bouncing around with a half-dozen clubs in ten years. Early in his career, like many young men, Michael had his share of problems stemming from wacky tobaccy, but with parenthood, seems to have cleaned up his act.
I’ve often pondered, would Beasley’s early NBA career have been any different had he spent four years at K-State? Would three more years of guidance, direction and learning the ways of the world in a controlled environment made a difference? The notion of ‘family’ has proven an effective way to market K-State football, but only because at its core, it’s legit.
I have no reason not to believe Fran Fraschilla. (That’s a double negative. I believe Fran Fraschilla). He’s clearly more plugged in and fluent on the ins and outs of D-1 college basketball programs than me. One thing our Starbucks chat may do, is solidify Weber as my guy. I was a huge Frank Martin guy. My ears are still ringing from Sandstorm a decade ago. When Weber won Coach of the Conference his first year with Frank’s guys and then tanked, I held my tongue and Weber at arms’ length, but the trend line is headed the right way.
My brain tells me K-State will never win 14 conference championships in a row. My gut tells me we’ll make the tournament more years than we don’t. Lightning may strike, and we could see another elite eight or final four. Like the Royals, maybe once in a generation.
My heart and my experience tell me to recognize your limitations, maximize your strengths and then just be happy with them. There’s peace of mind that comes with not succumbing to the nefariousness that lurks around seemingly every corner of big-time college sports.
I love K-State basketball and I want us to win as much as the next guy. My wife and I have been season ticketholders since we married in the Asbury era. It’s a value proposition inextricably interwoven to our life in Manhattan, Kansas.
Whatever happens, all of this should be about finding the sweet spot between winning basketball games and helping young men learn, grow and develop. We’ll never win like Kansas, Duke or Kentucky. But if we can hold our head high after the other Air Jordan drops, well that’s something.