The winds of change have blown through the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Proof in the pudding is the KCAC preseason basketball polls that were announced on Tuesday.
The KCAC has swelled to 12 schools and spilled over its former boundaries as schools from Nebraska and Oklahoma have been admitted. Now all we need is for a school in Colorado and one from Missouri to join and we’d be surrounded.
I wasn’t a proponent of the expansion and many of the old-schoolers I’ve talked with weren’t, either. The “K” in the KCAC still means something to me.
And who says bigger is better? The conference schedule is now a bloated 22 games as teams play home-and-home series. KCAC play is going to seem like a marathon and coaches don’t have as many games to prepare for conference play since it starts so early.
The KCAC is assured of getting two men’s teams and two women’s teams into the national tournament because of the largesse of the conference. But if the polls are correct, there’s a chance that the KCAC won’t be represented by a Kansas team at nationals.
It’s a slight chance, though, thanks to Tabor. The folks in Hillsboro really know what they’re doing as they’re coming off championship seasons on both the men’s and women’s side and there’s nothing to suggest that it won’t happen again.
But then the “outside element” is present. On the men’s side, newcomer York College of Nebraska is picked second in both polls and Oklahoma Wesleyan is fourth. Both could conceivably make the national tourney if things fall just right.
On the women’s side, Oklahoma Wesleyan is the new team that could make a run at nationals as the Eagles are picked third in both polls.
It should be noted that Oklahoma Wesleyan actually started KCAC play last year, while York is eligible for the first time, though it did schedule some KCAC schools a year ago.
Of course, better competition makes teams better. Having watched McPherson College’s men work out, if the 11 other teams in the KCAC are better than them then we’re going to have one heck of a conference. The Bulldogs were picked last in both polls, but have a lot of players back and veteran coach Tim Swartzendruber recruited a number of newcomers who will either start or push hard for starting roles.
And my spy in Lindsborg who has been around the conference for some 45 years tells me that men’s coach Clair Oleen has backed up the truck and brought in a load of transfers that in his mind will make the Swedes a title contender, even though they’re picked to finish in the second division. The return of Cody Harris, out last year with an injury, is enough to keep the Swedes in every game as honestly he should be playing at a higher level. He’ll challenge Tabor’s Lance Carter for KCAC Player of the Year.
It’s become a transfers league. Not very often anymore do you see a team win or contend for the championship without going the transfer route. The days of starting lineups with players who have been in the program three or four years has gone by the wayside. One look at Tabor’s roster and it has 13 players who spent at least one year somewhere else before matriculating to Hillsboro. The same can be said for most of the teams.
So this isn’t your grandfather’s or even your father’s KCAC anymore. Recruiting has gone coast-to-coast and in the case of some teams, international. It’s a big, wide world out there now and players are coming from all over to play in Central Kansas America.