It's officially panic time in Lawrence, Kan.
All too aware that a potential mass exodus of Big 12 teams to the Big Ten and Pac-10 could leave Kansas in no-man's land, officials at the school are working feverishly to keep the conference intact.
Each of the Jayhawks' most prominent coaches highlighted the virtues of the Big 12 and painted the looming threat as a potential benefit in the long run if it forces the conference to work harder to identify untapped revenue streams. Meanwhile, Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little made a phone call to her counterpart at Nebraska on Monday urging him to keep the Huskers in the Big 12 and prevent a potential disaster scenario for the Jayhawks.
Nebraska and Missouri reportedly have until 5 p.m. Friday to declare their loyalty to the Big 12, but Gray-Little told the Associated Press she received no indication which direction the Huskers are leaning. If both Nebraska and Missouri opt to continue to flirt with other conferences, it could push six other Big 12 schools to bolt for the Pac-10 and leave Kansas and the other remaining schools searching for a major conference to join.
"There are some universities that survive and thrive without a large athletic program," Gray-Little said. "I hope we don't have to test that out."
That a school with the hoops pedigree of Kansas is even in this predicament speaks to how little basketball matters in the expansion process in comparison to TV revenue and football success. The Jayhawks are a top-5 basketball program both currently and historically, yet their middling football program and lack of attractive TV markets have prevented them from receiving a whiff of interest from the Big Ten or Pac-10 thus far.
Gray-Little said that Kansas has begun working together with in-state rival Kansas State on potential contingency plans if the Big 12 disintegrates, but they aren't likely to find the options palatable.
One might be to link up with the basketball-heavy Big East, a decision that could create some delicious hoops matchups yet would be geographically untenable. Another would be to join the Mountain West, but the lack of BCS affiliation and the potential decrease in TV revenue means athletic director Lew Perkins could easily lose his job if this scenario came to fruition.
It's still difficult to envision Kansas not somehow finding a major conference to join, but the situation is dire enough for Perkins to admit to the Omaha World-Herald he's concerned.
"If I said I wasn't worried, I'd be a fool. I am worried every day — not only about Kansas and the Big 12, but for the Pac-10, the Big Ten. ... This is serious, serious, serious stuff."
There's one thing we can all agree on. Perkins' job is at stake here and Kansas' athletic future may be as well.