Football’s “Sunflower Showdown” is more than two months away, but the rivalry between the University of Kansas and Kansas State University reached a fever pitch Tuesday.
Fans across the state voiced opinions on the Big 12 Conference’s decision to publicly reprimand K-State for the controversial halftime show its marching band performed Saturday at the Wildcats’ opening football game, as well as sanctions the school imposed on itself.
Some argued the Star Wars/Star Trek-themed halftime show went awry with formations that resembled a sex act against a Jayhawk mascot.
The highlights of Tuesday’s public trash talk included the wife of K-State marching band director Frank Tracz suggesting on Facebook that the penalties stemmed from a complaint KU officials filed with the Big 12.
KU vice chancellor for public affairs Tim Caboni responded on Twitter, saying the school did no such thing and had no plans to become involved in the issue. K-State athletic director John Currie also said no one from KU contacted the Big 12.
Later, state Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, described the punishment as “offensive” on Twitter and blasted KU.
Even actor William Shatner, who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek,” voiced his opinion, defending the university with a Twitter post that read, “I think it’s time for the Big 12 Conference leaders to step down and get their eyes checked. What a travesty!”
For the second time this year, K-State apologized to Kansas for unsportsmanlike actions that occurred at an athletic event on its campus.
Saturday’s performance received more attention than many recent football games between Kansas and K-State, a rivalry that has grown stale with the Wildcats dominating the Sunflower Showdown in football and the Jayhawks rarely losing in basketball.
Here’s what happened: Band members on the north part of the field formed a Jayhawk. On the south side of the field, other members formed what was described as the Starship Enterprise heading toward the mascot’s beak. Two people ran from the sideline into the middle of the Jayhawk formation and unfurled a Jayhawk flag or banner. On the Enterprise formation, five people ran from the sideline to unfurl a larger Powercat flag or banner.
Schulz and the band later apologized on Twitter. Tracz apologized later on Facebook and explained the misrepresentation.
“There was absolutely no intent to display anything other than the Enterprise and the Jayhawk in battle,” Tracz wrote. “If I am guilty of anything it would be the inability to teach the drill in a manner that these young people could have succeeded. I do apologize for the misrepresentation and I assure you that I meant absolutely no disrespect.”
The first apology occurred in February, when Bramlage Coliseum security couldn’t control a court-storming and a student appeared to intentionally bump KU forward Jamari Traylor after a men’s basketball victory against the Jayhawks.
The Big 12 publicly reprimanded K-State following both instances. On Tuesday, K-State took discipline a step further by announcing internal sanctions.
The penalties include:
▪ A self-imposed $5,000 fine to be paid to the Big 12 Conference for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy
▪ Tracz is suspended from K-State’s Nov. 28 game at Kansas.
▪ Formations and designs for all future halftime shows must be approved by representatives from the school’s office of student life and athletic development.
“At Saturday’s home football opener Kansas State University fell short of its obligation to conduct itself in a consistent manner with the principles of sportsmanship,” K-State president Kirk Schulz said in a release announcing the penalties. “Good sportsmanship is part of the Wildcat way; we do not want to do anything that takes away from the tremendous efforts of our student athletes and the award-winning pride of Wildcat Land marching band.”
Currie said the marching band is still scheduled to attend the KU game and perform a halftime show. But you won’t see a Jayhawk formation during the performance that day. Or any other day, for that matter.
“My personal opinion is the Jayhawk doesn’t have anything to do with our Saturday,” Currie said. “ … I understand the historical joshing that goes back and forth, but Saturday was about K-State, about all the stuff we had going on. It was about our band and how hard they work and all they do to make gamedays special.
“None of that had anything to do with the Jayhawks. It had everything to do with the K-State Wildcats. We need to continue to evolve in focusing on who we are.”
Currie said K-State’s self-imposed sanctions were made strictly in reference to the unnecessary use of the Jayhawk, not “perverted social media.” Schulz, in a Tuesday email to band members, concurred, saying Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby objected to another university’s mascot in K-State’s show.
“As a longtime band parent, I appreciate the technical requirements and practice time to do the live animation while performing,” Schultz wrote, in part. “It is unfortunate that the band has been criticized on social media for a portion of the show which was taken completely out of context.”
Tracz attempted to explain the situation in greater detail Monday when he posted an opening comment five minutes before a live chat with the campus newspaper was set to start.
“I appreciate all the support that we’ve been getting from the K-State family,” Tracz wrote. “The marching band is a special group of young people to me and the staff. They are deserving of the Sudler Trophy, (which it received last year, recognizing it as the top marching band in the country) and all the support you could give them.”
Tracz ultimately backed out of the chat, telling the campus newspaper that Currie and Schulz advised him not to speak with media. Currie said Tuesday that was not true. Tracz did not respond to interview requests for this story. Schultz declined comment through school spokesman Jeff Morris.
“We don’t have any more to say about this issue,” Morris said. “In our mind it has been resolved.”
K-State’s athletic department this season has asked students to sign a sportsmanship pledge before picking up their football tickets.
“This is very significant as it relates to the new sportsmanship rules,” Currie said Tuesday, “and I believe that the Big 12 Conference and our university and our president are trying to be leaders in sportsmanship.”
The Big 12 said Tuesday it had accepted K-State’s self-imposed penalties.
“The actions of the marching band depicting the disintegration of a member institution’s mascot was inconsistent with the principles and expectations of the Big 12 sportsmanship and ethical conduct policy,” Bowlsby said in a statement.
They also helped add fuel to a rivalry.