A Psychiatrist’s Take on the Big 12

by Richard S. Winer, M.D. | Current Events

One of the qualities a psychiatrist is supposed to have is not getting too emotional when talking with a patient. We are supposed to try to be objective in our work. With that in mind, I will apologize in advance for not being as objective when it comes to talking about the current situation with the Big 12 Conference.

©2009 Scott Winer Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Campanile bell tower and red-roofed buildings paint a serene landscape on The University of Kansas campus. But serenity is in short supply around the Big 12.

I readily admit to being a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fan. When I was hospitalized at age 5, I somehow managed to get special permission to listen to a KU basketball game after the usual allowed time.

It was a thrill to see in person KU sports icons like Gale Sayers, JoJo White, and Jim Ryun, attending what was then the Big 8 Basketball Tournament and Indoor Track and Field Championships in Kansas City. They were highlights of the year.

That interest in KU has withstood the test of time beyond my own graduation from med school at KU as well as my youngest son’s graduation from KU.

So what is a Jayhawk fan supposed to make of the events unfolding around the Big 12 in general and at KU specifically? I suppose those who have similar feelings about such schools as Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor can relate.

Much of what we are all experiencing is anticipatory anxiety about what might happen, not knowing for sure what will take place. It’s no secret we are typically more fearful of the unknown than the known. It makes us feel less in control of what is going in our lives, and it can happen to us as individuals just as it can to organizations and institutions. There is a chance that what will transpire could end up being better than we thought, and we will look back and wonder why we were so concerned. But, until we really know, it is understandable for students, faculty and administration to feel nervous and to want desperately regain a sense of control.

The thought of watching other schools depart the Big 12 to go elsewhere is bound to bring up other feelings as well. There is understandably the sense of being abandoned or betrayed. It is easy to think, “Hey, we have stuck with you all this time through thick and thin. Now, you’re going to leave us for what you think is a better deal?”

The suggestion that it’s a business decision hurts even more because it doesn’t hit us like business. These are our alma maters, our schools, our communities. It affects us like any personal decision would. And, for KU, the seeming lack of interest is doubly hurtful.

How can a school like Kansas with one of the best basketball programs in the country be less desirable than some of its conference counterparts? Are we to believe we are not good enough, that we don’t belong with the others? Certainly, no fan, coach, student or administrator is going to believe that in their hearts. But it gets harder when others’ actions seem to suggest otherwise. We’re human beings, after all. We like to feel that we belong.

The conference history is a very long one, and the current Big 12 has existed 16 years. It’s been like having a long-term relationship with someone who shares your common interests. Even though we may have our disagreements along the way, there has always been enough to keep us together. When that relationship–the one we thought would never end–is suddenly on the verge of falling apart, we may start wondering if all those years together was just a big waste of time. It becomes all too tempting to focus on every negative aspect of this moment without giving much thought to all the good times along the way.

So, what happens now?

Years ago, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her classic book, On Death and Dying. She described five stages of death and dying that truthfully can be applied to any sense of loss. She wrote about anger, denial, depression, bargaining and acceptance/resignation. The potential loss of a trusted friend and the unknown of what will happen to us afterward causes us to go through these stages of loss at various times.  It is what every concerned Big 12 fan has already experienced many times over the last few weeks.

Hopefully, as the future of KU and the Big 12 becomes clearer, we will get to that stage of acceptance. We just might find out that things are not as bad as we had anticipated. That is what communities, imagined or real, are all about. In the face of uncertainty, we reach out to one another to weather the storm of unknowns. And when it all subsides and questions are answered, we begin moving forward once more.

That’s what we have done before, and that’s what we will do again.

blog comments powered by Disqus