Did Lon Kruger save Kansas State from falling to mid-major status?
That's over dramatic. But veteran radio play-by-play voice Mitch Holthus said Kruger returning to his alma mater to lead the Wildcats to four consecutive NCAA Basketball Tournaments removed all doubt whether K-State would be included in conference realignment negotiations.
"I don't think people give Lon enough credit for saving the day at Kansas State," Holthus said. "There were conference discussions long before the Big 12 was formed. The '80s were tumultuous because of how revenue was being shared with what today is known as the BCS."
Kruger was hired at Kansas State in 1986.
The basketball program hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament the previous four seasons.
The football program was viewed as the worst in America.
"It became obvious college football would change the entire landscape of college athletics," said Holthus, the Kansas City Chiefs voice who was K-State's play-by-play man for 13 years. "Kansas State didn't have anything to offer if there was conference shifting."
Holthus believes those four NCAA Tournaments were immeasurable. What would have happened if Kruger hadn't revived the basketball program?
"That was a critical time," Holthus said. "The league was as good as it's ever been. Billy Tubbs was at OU, Larry Brown at Kansas, Norm Stewart at Missouri. Iowa State had Johnny Orr. Nebraska was ramping up. Oklahoma started to take off.
"If Lon hadn't led them to four straight NCAA Tournaments, I'm not sure a new conference would have included Kansas State."
Fortunately for Kansas State, major conference shifting didn't occur for several more years.
Arkansas joined the SEC in 1990, the first major domino to fall in what would shape future BCS conferences.
By that time, Kruger had the basketball program back on track, highlighted by an Elite Eight finish in 1988.
Bill Snyder was on the brink of turning around the football program, leading K-State to 11 consecutive bowls (1993-2004).
When the Big Eight joined four Texas schools in 1996 to form the Big 12 it was a no brainer to include Kansas State.
"By then, Kansas State had some purple chips on the table," Holthus said. "Subsequently, they became part of the Big 12. But if conferences were formed a little sooner, and Lon hadn't brought basketball back, I don't know if it would have ended well for Kansas State."