Column: K-State fans find odd unity within basketball program’s struggles

February 23, 20170 Comments

As Bruce Weber’s job status gets murkier, K-State fans are uniting behind the idea that it may be time for change. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

For the first time in five years, Kansas State basketball fans appear to be in sync.

Bruce Weber, so far as anyone can tell right now, is not going to return the Wildcats to national prominence.

Reaching that conclusion took longer for some fans than others. But this isn’t about finger-pointing or I-told-you-so’s. For my part, I was entrenched in the “Wait and See” camp longer than I should have been, and I’ll come back to that later.

When K-State lost to Oklahoma State Wednesday night, sentencing the Wildcats to a losing record in Big 12 home games for a second straight season, the K-State fan base seemed to be, in a backwards way, more united than it’s been in a long time.

Change appears to be on the horizon. And those calling for it are no longer a minority, nor are they doing so without credible ammunition.

As this unification happened — over a months-long period of time, not just Wednesday night — I did notice much of the negative energy from K-State fans was directed toward the wrong place.

After a lengthy locker room conversation with his team, Weber emerged from the tunnel at Bramlage Coliseum to a few boos from fans still in the arena. It was the second straight game in which this has happened; the first being after K-State defeated Texas in Austin last weekend. On social media, Weber’s Twitter mentions were aflame.

The jeers and the tweets and the comments written on Aggieville bathroom walls are disrespectful, but no one really cares about that. More significantly, the jeers are misdirected, and that’s what this is about.

Bruce Weber is a first-class citizen and father. He is heavily involved in the fight against cancer; he donated $12,500 to Coaches vs. Cancer just three years ago, a charity for which he is a regular advocate.

As the negativity around him increased in recent months, he never lashed out at any critics, even though some of them have been firmly against him since the day he was hired in March 2012.

Heck, his response to a fan standing and booing just five feet from him in Austin, a fan wearing a “Fire Bruce” t-shirt, was to give the guy a high-five.

Weber may take this program to the next level. But he deserves better than the vitriol he’s taking right now.

That negativity should be directed toward the people who decide what happens next.

Weber was hired to coach basketball. He doesn’t sit in his office ten hours per day wondering how he can make his product worse. His work ethic is exceptional; he is just not the right man to lead the program anymore, so it appears.

At the end of the day, Weber delivered a Big 12 championship and at least two seasons of solid basketball. That’s probably more than some K-State fans deserved after the way his hiring was received. He’s coached every day with a smile on his face and will continue to do so for as long as he is asked to.

*****

When Frank Martin left K-State for a lesser program at South Carolina, the Wildcat fan base was split in two. Those two sides have been tectonic plates ever since, crashing into each other after every game, no matter the result.

On one side sit the loyalists who support K-State in every possible way, to an almost blinding degree. They thought Martin left as a traitor and crybaby, and jumped aboard with Weber immediately.

The other side, just as committed to its cause, believe K-State sports changed forever when Martin left, thinking that the university was more committed to its perception and reputation than results on the court or field.

Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong. But, again, that’s not what this is about.

The dozens, maybe even hundreds of “earthquakes” that have occurred since then did more than hurt K-State as a whole. It slowly chipped away at each side’s respect for the other.

This is relevant to Weber’s situation because of the timeline that 2012’s divide set in motion. As fans bickered, the actual product K-State put on the floor mattered less and less. There are now plenty of fans who don’t mind seeing the Wildcats lose, in hopes that it will force change. And on the other side, there are fans who don’t believe Weber is the right man for the job, but are supporting him out of spite toward their adversaries.

All of this has become rather childish, and yes, I’ll admit I’m throwing a stone from a glass house. But it’s become clear that fan unity is a key ingredient in fixing what’s been broken.

Through the Wildcats’ recent failures, it seems some unity is finally occurring, albeit in painfully frustrating fashion.

That unity just needs to be steered in a slightly different direction, with Weber no longer in the line of fire.

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