Kansas State Wildcats

Six Crazy ‘What If’ Questions in K-State Sports History

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Kansas State vs UCLA

As sports fans, we all like to play the “what if” game. What if X had happened instead of Y? Would the result be different? Would the course of history have been changed? If yes, how so? These “what if” questions can go far back into time, like “What if the Red Sox never sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees?” to more recent events like “What if the Buffalo Bills didn’t give Patrick Mahomes 13 seconds to tie the divisional playoff game?”

The “what if” game is a fun exercise when sitting around talking about sports with your buddies. I have often thought about “what ifs” in relation to K-State sports. If key decisions by players, coaches, or the K-State athletic department had gone in a different direction, would the end result have been the same or different?

I saw a “what if” question yesterday on Twitter related to K-State sports. What if you were stranded on an island and you could only watch one old K-State game for all of eternity? Which game would it be? For me, the answer is easy. The 2003 Big 12 championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners, who were considered by many in sports media at the time as “the greatest college football team of all time.” I have watched the entire game probably 20 times and have watched the highlight video too many times to count. I never get sick of it for many reasons. Fans mentioned other great games, like the 2010 K-State/Xavier Sweet 16 game, the K-State victory over the Russian national team in Ahearn Fieldhouse, and the 1998 football game against Nebraska, among others. The 2003 victory against Oklahoma is still my number one choice.


What are some other “what if” questions regarding K-State sports? Here are some that I thought of…

What if Bill Snyder had never been hired as K-State’s football coach?

I often think about this one. Bill Snyder built the K-State football program from the ground up. The program eventually became a national title contender. The success of the football team created tons of rabid K-State football fans and, as a result, they have high expectations for the football program. Since K-State has been close to being in a position to compete for the national championship on a couple of occasions, the desire by both fans and the administration is still there to see it happen. K-State will likely be ranked in the preseason top 25, as Chris Klieman has taken the mantle from Bill Snyder and has steadily improved the product on the field. But what if Bill Snyder was never hired? This is a plausible question since he was the fourth or fifth choice down the list. If someone else had been offered, or accepted, the job, I believe the football program may have gone through a litany of head coaches, just like what has happened at the University of Kansas, and K-State may have gone through the same lows that KU has. Instead of K-State dominating on the field, KU and K-State might have spent many years battling with each other to stay out of last place. Fortunately, Bill Snyder understood what it takes to win in Manhattan and made it happen. Chris Klieman has taken the ball and continued that success.


What if Dana Altman was embraced by K-State basketball fans instead of being run out of Manhattan?

K-State great Lon Kruger bolted to Florida in 1990 after leading the Wildcats to four straight NCAA tournaments, including an Elite 8 appearance in 1988. K-State promoted from within, hiring assistant coach Dana Altman to replace him. Altman made the postseason three out of his four years as head coach of the Wildcats, with two NIT bids and an NCAA tournament appearance in 1993. In 1994, his team finished 4-10 in the Big 8, but K-State still received an NIT invite and made the quarterfinals of the tournament. NIT bids and 6th-place finishes in the league were not good enough for the fans or the administration. Altman felt the heat and left K-State to coach at Creighton. He eventually left Creighton to become the head coach at Oregon and led them to the Final Four in 2017. Altman’s teams have made the postseason every year since 1998. That is 25 years. He did not make the postseason his first three years at Creighton as he was building the program.

When Altman left for Creighton, K-State hired Pepperdine coach Tom Asbury, who was fired after six seasons and replaced by Jim Wooldridge, who coached for six seasons without ever making the postseason. The Asbury/Wooldridge years of K-State basketball were simply agonizing to watch. I tend to believe if Altman had stayed at K-State, he may have taken the Wildcats on a similar postseason run like the one he has at Creighton and Oregon and would have probably taken K-State to a Final Four, or maybe several Final Fours over the years.

What if Bill Snyder had never retired in 2005?

There was not a lot of fan backlash when Bill Snyder retired for the first time. His teams finished 2-6 in the league in 2004 and 2005, and recruiting had gone downhill from the level it had been. Another rebuilding job was in order, and the prospects of it happening were not great. I suppose if Snyder had not retired we wouldn’t have had to live through the Ron Prince years, so from that perspective it would have been great. However, I believe three years off gave Snyder a renewed energy and perspective on the game, and that helped him turn the program around a second time and win the Big 12 in 2012. Had he never retired, I am not sure that championship would have happened.


What if the West Virginia basketball coaching job had not opened up in 2007? How long would Bob Huggins have stayed at K-State and how successful would he have been?

Bob Huggins coached at K-State for one year before the West Virginia job opened up and he jumped at the chance to coach at his alma mater. Huggins had a great recruiting class coming into K-State and had a pipeline of talent set up to continue to get great players. When Huggins left, Frank Martin was promoted to head coach and was able to keep Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, and others, but Martin was a brand new head coach learning the ropes. He eventually got the Wildcats to the Elite 8 in 2010 with Jacob Pullen leading the way. But what if Huggins had stayed? Would he have taken K-State further than Martin did? Most likely he would have. Another punch in the gut to K-State fans is that Huggins took West Virginia to a Final Four in 2010. K-State basketball has found some success since Huggins bolted to Morgantown but would have likely been more successful had he stayed.

What if Michael Bishop hadn’t fumbled near the end of regulation in the 1998 Big 12 championship game?

K-State goes on to win the national championship. I am not blaming Michael for this. He was the big reason K-State was in that position in the first place. However, there is no doubt that this one play changed the course of history. If K-State had gone on to win the national championship, would this have been Bill Snyder’s first of many? Could he have used the momentum of winning a national championship to continue building the program to reach new heights? Unfortunately, we will never know for sure, but I like to think that would be the case.

What if Michael Beasley and Bill Walker stayed at K-State one more year?

Beasley and Walker declared for the NBA draft in 2008 after K-State’s round of 32 exit in the NCAA tournament. Both players were strongly considering staying in Manhattan one more year. What would the 2008-09 Wildcats have looked like had these two stayed? Denis Clemente at point guard, Jacob Pullen at shooting guard, Walker at small forward, Beasley at power forward, and Luis Colon at center. Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels as the sixth and seventh men. That is a Final Four team and

definitely a national championship contender. North Carolina, led by Tyler Hansbrough, won the 2009 title, and I would argue that this hypothetical K-State team could have taken them.

Can you think of any other “what ifs” regarding K-State sports? If I get some submissions from you all, I will do something similar next week.

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