LAWRENCE, Kan. — The message from officials in the University of Kansas Athletic Department has been clear. The Jayhawks aren't interested in playing Missouri in football — or basketball for that matter — once the Tigers leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
Kansas football players disagree. Safety Bradley McDougald said he couldn't even imagine not having Missouri on the schedule.
Missouri (6-5, 4-4)
at Kansas (2-9, 0-8)
WHEN: 2:40 p.m.
WHERE: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
TV: Fox Sports
RADIO: KTGR 1580/AM, 100.5/FM; KCMQ 96.7 FM
"When I found out that they were moving conferences, I didn't even think that it would be the last game" between the two, McDougald said. "I just thought it would get moved to the first game of the season."
As of now, it appears McDougald's thoughts are out of step with the people at Kansas making the decisions. On Nov. 6, the day Missouri announced its move to the SEC, Kansas Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger issued the following statement:
"This news doesn't surprise us. We wish Missouri all the best in the future. The University of Kansas can now focus on TCU, West Virginia University and the other members of the Big 12 Conference who choose to be with us."
Kansas football coach Turner Gill has followed his boss's lead, speaking repeatedly, including at his regular Tuesday news conference, as if the rivalry was definitively on hold.
"As a legacy, people are always going to talk about the last game played," Gill said. "I think that's what brings about the significance of this game. It's the last opportunity for us to play in this type of situation. It's going to be very, very meaningful."
Missouri's administration has expressed its desire to keep the rivalry alive, including in its introductory SEC news conference.
"We have a tremendous respect for the University of Kansas. It is our hope and our intention that we have an opportunity to play against the University of Kansas for many years to come," Missouri Athletics Director Mike Alden said Nov. 6. "I think that to suggest that conference affiliation be a requirement … I don't know if that necessarily holds water."
But Gill disagreed. He said Monday by teleconference that the rivalry belongs in the Big 12.
"I think it always needs to be played in the Big 12 Conference, and that's where I think it all should be. That's kind of my thoughts on it, and we'll go from there," Gill said. "I think it's because of the history that goes so long before being able to play in this game … I think because of the Midwest and the history of the two schools."
When asked if that history would be lost with a potential nonconference game between Kansas and Missouri, his response was simply, "I do."
The thoughts of Gill's team, however, are at odds with his own.
"Throughout the history and what we've had against one another, I think it would definitely continue to exist even if we're in different conferences,” wide receiver Kale Pick said.
Quarterback Jordan Webb agreed.
"When you step on the field, you're playing Mizzou. It doesn't matter that it's a Big 12 opponent. It's Mizzou. I think it could really exist outside the Big 12, but we'll see if that ever occurs," he said.
McDougald was the most succinct.
"It wouldn't matter if it was first game, last game, midseason, let's just play," he said.
The Kansas administration hasn't really given any specific reasons for why it no longer wants to play the game, other than referencing loyalty and "Midwestern roots."
David Lawrence paints a slightly different picture. Lawrence, a former Kansas football player who currently serves as Jayhawk Radio Network's color analyst for football games, hinted that bruised egos might be playing a factor.
"There's no question that there's a lot of schools around the league that are a little upset that Missouri's leaving the conference they've been affiliated with for many years. I'm not going to try to hide that," Lawrence said. "To do anything except for what's good for Kansas would probably not be a wise thing."
Lawrence has also stepped into the role of motivational speaker for the team. He replaces the late Don Fambrough, a former Jayhawks football coach revered at Kansas for his anti-Missouri pregame speeches given to fire up Kansas teams long after he stopped coaching.
Lawrence took a more measured approach than the Kansas players to describe the future of the rivalry, attempting to look at the game from the administration's point of view.
"How big a void is there? … I think we'll maybe understand that a little bit more in the next couple of years when we don't face each other," Lawrence said. "Playing Missouri in a nonconference game and then you come back and play all of the Big 12 schools, which will involve now TCU, that's going to be tough. I just can't say that because of its uniqueness and its special qualities that it has to be played, but I think probably we'll know in the next five years of not having it how much we feel that way."
Just how much does it mean to the Jayhawks? Kansas linebacker Steven Johnson, who will play in his final game Saturday, agreed that the rivalry was part of the essence of playing at Kansas.
"It is part of it. Everything about being a Jayhawk," Johnson said. "Standing up for Lawrence and this whole community."
But starting next year, it might not be. McDougald, a junior, was resigned to the fate that he won't get to play a game against Missouri as a senior. He even seemed comfortable with it.
"In this day and age, everything seems to be about money," he said. "They're switching. We're staying. We're all right. We're KU.”