MANHATTAN — 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 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 confirmed no one from KU contacted the Big 12.
Later, state Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, described the punishment as “offensive” on Twitter and blasted KU. Claeys is a K-State alum.
Even actor William Shatner, who portrayed Capt. James T. Kirk on “Star Trek,” voiced his opinion by tweeting, “I think it’s time for the Big 12 Conference leaders to step down and get their eyes checked. What a travesty!”
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 Jayhawks’ mouth. 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 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.”
Saturday was the second time this year K-State apologized to Kansas for unsportsmanlike actions that occurred at an athletic event on its campus. The first occurred in February, when Bramlage Coliseum security failed to control a court-storming and a student appeared to intentionally bump KU forward Jamari Traylor after a 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 $5,000 fine to be paid to the Big 12 Conference for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy.
• Tracz’s suspension from K-State’s Nov. 28 game at Kansas.
• Approval of all formations and designs for all future halftime shows by representatives from the school’s office of student life and athletic development.
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.”
K-State President Kirk Schulz agreed with the penalties.
“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,” Schulz said in a statement. “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.”
Tracz did not respond to interview requests for this story, but he told a Manhattan radio station he was glad the ordeal was over. He said he received some threatening voice messages and emails during the weekend, but also felt an outpouring of support.
He said Currie and Schulz fully supported him and the K-State marching band going forward.
“The pressure and stress that this put on my kids was really getting to me and my wife,” Tracz told KMAN radio. “She was ready to get the boxes out and head out of town, but we stuck through this and the university has backed us and supported us and made this go away. That is what we wanted to have happen.”
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.”
In a Tuesday email to band members, Schultz said the self-imposed sanctions were the result of Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby objecting to the use of another university’s mascot in the show.
The controversial performance frustrated many within K-State’s athletic department, which asked students to sign a sportsmanship pledge before picking up their football tickets this season.
“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 on Tuesday issued a public reprimand of Tracz and 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 the rivalry.