Kansas State basks in Big 12 success

05/18/2013 6:20 PM

05/11/2014 1:13 PM

Terry Dutton, hanging around with his friend David Yoder and watching the Kansas State baseball team celebrate its Big 12 championship after Friday’s victory over Oklahoma, had a fashion problem.

His cap commemorated the Wildcats’ 2012 Big 12 football championship. Since he bought it, K-State brought home league trophies in men’s basketball and baseball.

“You could put basketball here, and baseball here,” Dutton said, pointing to the cap.

T-shirts are already rolling off the line. By Saturday morning, a shirt featuring the three Big 12 championship banners was available on the school’s website for $19.95.

K-State should take advantage. Capturing league titles in the major men’s sports spread across the academic year isn’t quite Halley’s Comet infrequent.

But it’s rare.

Louisville departs the Big East with a three-bagger this year. Texas is the only other Big 12 team to accomplish the feat and Stanford did it in 1999-2000. That’s it for programs from the automatic qualifier conferences of the BCS era, which started in 1998.

Kansas State turned the triple play on Friday night when Coach Brad Hill’s baseball team defeated Oklahoma 6-5. The teams entered the three-game series with the title on the line with K-State requiring one victory and the Sooners needing a sweep.

When Tanner Witt scored from third on a passed ball with one out in the ninth, the Wildcats had a walk-off victory and most improbable of the three championships, based on expectation.

Nine teams play Big 12 baseball. K-State, coming off a 2012 season in which it tied for last, was the seventh choice of league coaches in the preseason.

But the Wildcats have molded into one of the nation’s top hitting teams, carrying the team’s fourth-best team average at .321 and on Friday chased Sooners starter and perhaps baseball’s top draft pick, Jonathan Gray, in the seventh.

K-State captured its first baseball conference title since 1933.

“We’re a bunch of nobodies and nobody expected anything from us,” catcher Blair DeBord said after Friday’s triumph.

Football and men’s basketball were held in higher preseason esteem, but only slightly.

Coach Bill Snyder’s football team was picked sixth in the preseason by media voters. But a Big 12 opening game victory at Oklahoma changed the course of the season and the Wildcats, led by Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein, went on to an 8-1 record, matching the Sooners, for the program’s first league title since 2003 and third in history.

The men’s basketball team was the fifth choice by the coaches, but a stretch of 10 victories in 11 games helped propel K-State to a 14-4 record, the same as Kansas, in Coach Bruce Weber’s first season. It was the Wildcats’ first hoop title since 1977.

Add to the roll call high jumper Eric Kynard, a silver medalist in last summer’s Olympic Games and favorite to repeat his NCAA title next month, an equestrian team that last month won its third Reserve National Championship in four years, and a ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years for the volleyball program and Kansas State may not have enjoyed a more successful athletic year in its history.

Even K-State president Kirk Schulz raised his eyebrows at the across-the-board achievement.

“If you had told me in August that we would win Big 12 titles in the three major men’s sports I don’t know if I’d have believed you,” Schulz said. “But it’s been a truly special year, and it’s something we’ll take plenty of pride in.”

Also satisfaction knowing the accomplishment was crafted on a middleweight budget. Kansas State’s athletic revenues of $63 million for the 2011-12 school year, the last year federal figures are available, place the Wildcats in the lower half of Big 12 schools. Texas leads the nation at $163 million.

But K-State isn’t exactly winning on the cheap. The school has invested some $130 million in facilities in recent years, including a new basketball practice center and the West Stadium Club, the expansion of luxury seating at Snyder Family Stadium that’s on schedule to open this season.

Smaller upgrades are no less important. Two years ago, Kansas State spent $950,000 to resurface its baseball playing field, including outfield turf where grass had been. The result? During a season where weather played havoc with some Big 12 schedules, K-State didn’t lose a home game and could finish with the league’s best home record.

Nobody in the Big 12 seems to be getting more bang for the buck than Kansas State.

“Bill Snyder has said it best,” K-State athletic director John Currie said. “The intangibles are in Manhattan, Kansas, the support, the work ethic. If you want to find a commonality with the three championships it’s the work ethic and toughness.

“I don’t know how many first-round draft choices we have, but typically that’s not the way we’ve done it. It’s teamwork, discipline, senior leadership in all three programs. Together, everybody has raised expectations.”

Currie, who was introduced as K-State’s athletic director four years ago Saturday, could add coaching stability to the list. There’s been one change during his tenure — Frank Martin left for South Carolina, replaced by Weber.

Coaches have remained, and programs have been supported, and in one remarkable school year it came together in a way it never had.

“Part of the student-athlete experience is being able to compete for championships,” Currie said.

That’s what Kansas State was about in 2012-13.

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