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The Border War: On Hold but Never Over

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Since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC, Kansas has every right to refuse to play Mizzou, but this rivalry is about so much more than just games. Given the states' shared history, the resumption of the series isn't just what should happen - it's an inevitability.

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Some rivalries die the moment the series ends. In the modern landscape of college athletics, dozens of long held, hallowed, and "fierce" rivalries have been jettisoned in a heartbeat as teams, driven by football dollar signs, began a never-ending game of conference musical chairs.

Afterwards, those rivalries were left to rot.

But the Kansas-v-Missouri Border War isn't like most rivalries. Though the games may be on hold, the rivalry, and its competition, is still very much in play. Kansas claimed the last significant victory in the series, and I'm not talking about the thrilling overtime basketball victory that came in Allen Fieldhouse when both the Tigers and Jayhawks were ranked in the top five of the nation.

Kansas' final victory in the series came when the Tigers left the conference and the Jayhawks sent them on their way with a "Nice knowin' ya! We're done here."

Tigers fans cry cowardice. In truth, it's more nuanced than that. Mizzou was the one who left the conference. Mizzou made the move in the interest of their football program. In their defense, it's hard to pass up an invite to play in the best football conference in the country. However, it was somewhat naive of Mizzou to assume such a move would leave their most important rivalry intact. Even with the prestige of footballin' in the S-oo-th Eastern Conference, losing your most historically significant rival is unfortunate for the athletic programs of both schools and their fan bases. No amount of the SEC's ham-fisted attempts to manufacture a new rivalry with Arkansas will ever cancel out a Kansas-v-Mizzou rivalry that transcends sport.

Before Mizzou bolted from the Big 12 Conference in the summer of 2012, the Kansas-v-Mizzou Border War was the oldest continually played rivalry west of the Mississippi. In football alone, it was the second oldest unbroken rivalry in the college game, with 120 meetings starting in 1891.

Kansas-v-Mizzou may be overshadowed if not ignored entirely by outside press in favor of sexier match-ups, but it's not regional homerism to claim that KU-v-MU may be the most heated rivalry in all of sport. Unlike many rivalries that throw around words like "battle" or "war" in their titles, the Border War is rooted in actual warfare.

The Kansas and Missouri state line marked one of the bloodiest and most historically significant battlefields of the Civil War, a fact which is grossly under-acknowledged nationally. The raiding back and forth of each other's state lines, burning of towns, and killing hundreds of people between 1854 and 1865 left a lasting scar on the region, with large swaths of southwestern Missouri and southeastern Kansas sparsely populated to this day due to migrations deeper into their respective states for protection during the turmoil.

These are painful, traumatic agitations that took generations to subside, if they ever truly did. The earliest players on both the Kansas and Missouri teams were the grandsons and sons of Civil War vets, their fathers, uncles, and even brothers lost or wounded in the madness. Though battles were replaced with sporting contests, the anger, hurt and even outright hatred was still very much present and would be well into the twentieth century.

While I do not condone abuses by Kansas fans toward Mizzou fans or vice versa under any circumstances, including using Civil War devastation as a motive, the animosity passed down from generation to generation at least makes a bit of grotesque sense.

Having grown up in this rivalry, I'm more disgusted when I hear about other rivalries being "so intense" with provided examples being an Alabama jackass killing hundred-year old trees on Auburn's campus or  a video of some Penn State jagoff, backed by a mob, throwing a full can of beer at an Ohio State fan's head (NSFW, do not click on that YouTube link if you're easily offended. It's as foul-mouthed as you can imagine a drunken, white-boy brofest would be). By comparison to the Border War, that type of BS smacks of nothing more that arbitrary acts of cruelty.

Kansas' cold shoulder toward Mizzou is the latest shot in the Border War. It's a clear and deliberate reminder to everyone in the region, and the nation, exactly who it was that ran away to join their fellow Civil War era Confederate State belligerents. I get KU's motivation. It may even be justified. It's just unfortunate that doing so puts such a historic series in this state of punitive purgatory.

Part of this is due to the current imbalance in the rivalry. Mizzou basketball and Kansas football are presently atrocious embarrassments to their schools. With Kansas basketball as one of the crown jewels of the sport and Mizzou football having very much proven that it can hold its weight in the mighty SEC football conference, both programs stand to gain very little by playing a turd for nothing more than a sentimental trip down dysfunctionally nostalgic lane.

Kansas is banking on a notion that a break in play is more of a blow to the Tigers than the Jayhawks. In a way, I see their point.

Kansas can just ignore the Tigers when it comes to basketball these days, and the rebuilding 'Hawks football team wants no part of putting the Tigers on the schedule. Whereas the Tigers, on the other hand, need Kansas on their basketball schedule to generate at least one sellout for their slowly dying basketball fan base. As for football, with the addition of a playoff the selection committee has placed a premium on non-conference scheduling of power conference schools, and the SEC tradition of scheduling three sacrificial goats to pad out the schedule is becoming unfashionable. What better power conference opponent to place on Mizzou's schedule than a limp and inept version of your most hated rival?

Mizzou basketball and Kansas football each have a long road to go, though. If that's what it will take to get the schools to start playing each other again, then it might be a while.

I want to see the games in the Border War renewed. The future of college football scheduling can't be defined by conference alliances alone. The conference jumping will surely continue, especially if there will be a college football playoff expansion. Kansas-v-Missouri, going all the way back to the Civil War, has shown that both sides have no respect for literal borders.

And though the Border War may have morphed into a Border Cold War, perhaps this cooling off period was needed. Some may even say it's a peace 150+ years overdue.

But it won't be permanent. Whether it's in a future conference together or in a preseason non-conference matchup, these two states, these schools, their teams, and their fans will be back together, the bickering and bragging renewed with the uncompromised vigor.

Because like two equally insufferable parts of a tired, old, and ugly marriage, the split in 2012 seemed more like the predictable move of one partner of that marriage getting bored and leaving to chase a new thrill than a decisive divorce.

Kansas has already made its point, but even as a Jayhawk fan who enjoys sticking it to Mizzou, I hope KU doesn't drag this out too much longer. I'll admit that I miss playing the Tigers in their hideous macaroni-and-cheese colored uniforms. These two schools and their teams belong together, in whatever form that takes. After all, what's Superman without his Lex Luthor? Batman without his Joker? Austin Powers without his Dr. Evil?

They're boring, that's what.

Besides, every war needs a glorious ending. Placing a team in a timeout with the silent treatment is far too unsatisfying.

If you feel so inclined, shoot me an email at -  j.m.winmore@gmail.com - or follow my work on The Free Ranged Word and for LFK Magazine.