Kansas and Missouri shouldn’t let rivalry end out of spite

When Saturday afternoon's instant classic between Kansas and Missouri finally ended after 2 1/2 riveting hours, the emotions of perhaps the final Border War game were inescapable wherever you looked in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Thomas Robinson popped his jersey in elation. Bill Self raised his arms in triumph. And Michael Dixon buried his head in his jersey in disgust.

Scenes like that make it easy to label Kansas' thrilling 87-86 victory over Missouri a fitting sendoff for one of college basketball's best rivalries, but if that truly becomes the legacy of Saturday's game, then that's a disgrace.

What perhaps the most enthralling game of college basketball's regular season should be is a reminder why the Jayhawks and Tigers need to put their petty conference realignment quarrels aside and not allow this rivalry to end because of spite.

There are certainly valid reasons why the Border War is in jeopardy after more than a century's worth of heated matchups.

Kansas supporters blame Missouri because the Tigers are the ones leaving the Big 12 for the money and stability of the SEC in the fall. Missouri backers say it's Kansas' fault since the jilted Jayhawks have stubbornly refused to accept the Tigers' offer to continue the rivalry as non-league foes.

But while Missouri may thrive in the SEC without the Jayhawks and Kansas may continue to be a perennial national power without the Tigers, both programs are better off when they're playing each other. How many other rivalries in the country could generate as many history-making moments in one game as Saturday's matchup did?

There was Robinson's game-saving blocked shot in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime and ensure that a 19-point Kansas comeback didn't go to waste. There were Marcus Denmon's stone-cold jump shots in overtime to will Missouri back in front after it appeared the Jayhawks had seized control. And there was the disputed foul on Tyshawn Taylor's final drive to the rim that enabled the Kansas senior to sink the game-tying and game-winning free throws with eight seconds left in overtime.

Missouri won't experience heartbreak like this in the SEC against Auburn or Ole Miss. And Kansas won't experience jubilation like this against West Virginia or TCU.

College basketball will go on without the Kansas-Missouri rivalry, of course, but don't let anyone tell you the matchup won't be missed. Besides Duke-North Carolina and Kentucky-Louisville, no other rivalries in the nation possess the combination of history, hatred and modern-day national relevance that the series between the Jayhawks and Tigers does.

What other rivalry would inspire one side to print t-shirts championing a Civil War raid as "scoreboard?" Or cause the other side to declare victory by forfeit in the series because its rival announced it was leaving the conference?

Hopefully someday soon, Kansas swallows its pride, does the right thing and agrees to an annual non-conference game with Missouri. They can play it in Kansas City. Or on campus in alternating years. Heck, play it anywhere.

Just don't let the rivalry end out of spite.