Kansas State University

John Currie thinks Kansas State athletics, Big 12 set for future success

Football was one of two of Kansas State’s most prominent sports to finish with a losing record in the 2015-16 school year.
Football was one of two of Kansas State’s most prominent sports to finish with a losing record in the 2015-16 school year. The Wichita Eagle

For Kansas State athletic director John Currie, the past nine months have been an unpleasant reminder of the cyclical nature of college athletics.

K-State’s football team (6-7) suffered its first losing season since 2008 and finished eighth in the Big 12. Its men’s basketball team (17-16) missed the postseason for a second straight year and also finished eighth in the Big 12. Its baseball team (26-26) is tied for seventh in the conference standings with one series to go.

With a combined record of 49-49, K-State’s three most prominent teams are currently the definition of mediocre.

“From an athletics perspective, this has not been our best year,” Currie said Monday during a wide-ranging forum with reporters. “To finish eighth in football and eighth in men’s basketball is not really our goal or our expectation. Nor is it what our coaches feel is acceptable.”

Especially not after their recent accomplishments. Remember, at this time three years ago K-State was wrapping up an athletic year that featured Big 12 championships in all three sports and a combined record of 83-29.

So what happened? How did all three teams go from excellent to average at the same time?

“I think part of it is just the cyclical (nature) of college athletics,” Currie said. “All three of those championship teams, we had really special leaders. We had Rodney McGruder in basketball, Collin Klein and Arthur Brown in football, Ross Kivett and some other guys in baseball. So you get special leadership type guys, but I really think it is just more part of the cycle.”

In other words: 2013 was the high end of the spectrum and 2016 is the opposite.

Currie thinks the Wildcats are ready go back up, and soon. He hasn’t made a single coaching change, and likes K-State’s returning rosters.

“I do believe our foundation is really strong,” Currie said. “As you look at our programs across the board, I think every one of our sports is poised next year to take a step forward. For some that will be a step back into the postseason, for others that is going to be a step deeper into the postseason. I am kind of excited about where we are.

“We are going to have peaks and valleys in college athletics. It’s a tough league, a tough business, everybody has 85 scholarships, everybody has got nice facilities, everybody has got nice stuff. With our foundation and our culture and with our fan support, over time we can make our peaks higher and our valley floors higher.

“If this is a valley floor, this year, it has been quite a bit higher than some down years have been in the past.”

Currie also thinks the Big 12 is in a position of strength. Despite unresolved issues ranging from expansion, the return of a championship football game and the possible creation of a conference television network, he liked what he heard at the league’s spring meetings in Arizona. The conference, he said, is not in imminent danger as it was during the last round of realignment.

Big 12 presidents will continue to discuss key issues later this month at their meetings in Dallas.

“We’re healthier than we’ve been,” Currie said, “maybe at any time in our history in terms of unity and trying to work together.”

Currie didn’t reveal his stance on the Big 12’s three major talking points. He said he could make a case for and against each proposal.

But he did share some fascinating thoughts on each.

For instance, he doesn’t think a conference network is essential. Every Big 12 game in football and men’s basketball is currently broadcast on ESPN or FOX channels, and there is value in that exposure.

“The first coach that complains about not having a network is going to be the first person to complain when x percentage of his games are on the network instead of being on ESPN or FOX. K-State has benefited enormously from having all of our games on ESPN and FOX ... Instead of having five or six games on a network that not that many people see.”

His thoughts on expansion: “I could make a great argument, personally, that I would rather just stay at 10.”

If the championship game returns, he wants to avoid a late-season rematch, preferably by splitting the league into two divisions.

But he understands the counter arguments to each issue.

“I am for whatever outcome collectively strengthens the conference,” Currie said.

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett