Friendly advice on college basketball fandom from a Kansas grad

Submitted by Erik_in_Dayton on February 13th, 2013 at 1:01 PM

 Friendly advice on a philosophy of watching college basketball from a Kansas grad:

 Despite being a Michigan fan through-and-through, I attended KU as an undergrad.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, Mr. Spanish Inquisition, I am telling you this because it was while attending KU that I learned important lessons about following college basketball, lessons that I list below (and that you can of course take or leave).  I've meant to post this at some point, and now seems as good a time as any given last night.

 A quick note about KU:  KU can lay claim to being the Michigan of college basketball.  KU’s first coach, for example, was Dr. James Naismith himself, who course invented the game after the indoor dachshund fights that he had organized for his students led to the loss of a number of fingers and eyes.   Kansas can also lay claim to Forrest “Phog” Allen (the father of basketball coaching), Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, and William S. Burroughs (the "Gentleman Junkie Jumpshooter").  More, KU has more than 2,000 college basketball victories, consistently dominates the Big 12 (and the Big 8 prior to that), has three national championships and numerous Final Fours to its name, and…you get the idea.

 Naismith, moments before realizing that his over-sized ball fit into his basket:


KU fans have understandably high expectations for their team, and this is where the important point is for us:  Hardcore Kansas fans are a largely joyless and unhappy bunch.  The theory of hedonic adaptation posits (this is the short version) that humans will return to a certain baseline of happiness  regardless of their circumstances, and, though hedonic adaptation is not universally recognized as a psychological reality, Jayhawk fans certainly seem exhibit it.  They find little happiness in victories – even when those victories are in games that clinch a regular season conference championship or a conference tournament championship.   These victories, after all, are expected.  They happen most years.  Kansas fans are accustomed to them, and what excitement is there in the status quo?  The Kansas fan finds little to enjoy in the humdrum realities of simple excellence.  Why should we clap when the sun comes up?  It comes up every day.    

KU fans suffer terribly, though, with almost any loss.  Given that KU is supposed to win, it can only be the team’s own failures, the refs, or some cruel trickster god that could cause them to lose.   Rarely is an opponent acknowledged as being better than the Jayhawks, and this leads to much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth among Kansas fans.   Lose to Oklahoma State at home?  How did that happen!  Lose to Oklahoma?  WTF – is this 1988?  Lose to TCU?  Is “TCU” even a thing?!  These lows are rare, but they sting far more than the victories soothe, and they often last for the whole offseason.  “There’s no success like failure,” Bob Dylan sang, “and failure is no success at all.” 

Here is where my friendly advice comes to you, my fellow Michigan fans:  Do not be like a Kansas fan.  Think of every un-played game as a loss (it is, after all, not yet a win).  Every game and every play must be won anew, and there is no guarantee at all that Michigan will win any of them.  Remember that only five or six years ago Michigan was in the middle of a season that would see them lose to Harvard, Western Kentucky, and Central Michigan, all while winning only six Big Ten games.   Remember that every team is like a snail walking on the edge of a straight razor, its destruction possible in any number of ways and its success possible in only a small few.

See this man for more on snails on straight razors:

Further, and for the love of all things holy, do not ever expect your team to make it to the Final Four.  In 1996, Kansas fielded a 34-2 team that included Jacque Vaughn (2x consensus All-American), Raef Lafrentz (2x consensus All-American), and Paul Pierce (1x consensus All-American – and also Paul freakin’ Pierce).  They promptly lost in the Sweet Sixteen.  Kansas then went 35-4 the next year but lost in the second round to Rhode Island.  Rhode Island!  The tournament is chaos, and you cannot expect anything of chaos.  Not even a juggernaut can expect safe sailing. 

I imagine that someone will say, “We should expect nothing less than championships from Michigan, or we’ll never get them.”  To this I say that we as fans don’t have to have those expectations.  The players and coaches do, but we as fans are doing our part so long as we show up to all of the games and yell really loudly.   No one will know it if we roll with the punches and savor even victories over the Penn States of the world.

I am not trying to comment here on the status of the Michigan basketball program or make any predictions about it.  I am, though, encouraging Wolverine fans not to get caught up in Kansas Fan Syndrome, where success and the expectations that come with it lead to almost nothing but misery.  Relish every win or even good play if you can and consider any defeat to be only a return to the likely state of things.  Don’t suffer the pain of having your expectations torn down – instead have no expectations. 

I should say one more time that I offer this as friendly advice (and I also don’t mean to imply that I’m always able to follow my own advice).  And if you don’t find this helpful, well…that’s cool, man.   Here are some of Naismith’s fighting dachshunds for your troubles:



February 13th, 2013 at 1:09 PM ^

I like to remember the Wisconsin game a few years back--the infamous "backboard game."  The season seemed lost and everything hopeless, but everyone remembers that season for the tournament (The Eulogy of Bruce Pearl and KICK IT OUT TO STU, DARIUS!).  The season's not over and there's still a lot of basketball to be played.  Beilein has seen low points in a season and has seen his teams recover well.  


February 13th, 2013 at 1:14 PM ^

I appreciate the post, but I think everyone on this blog understands Kansas Basketball Fan Syndrome because it is essentially equivalent to Michigan Football Fan Syndrome. We both have ridiculous expectations that cannot possibly be met on a regular basis.

But regardless, I still insist on living in a constant state of discontent.


February 13th, 2013 at 1:36 PM ^

& well said.  Kudos to you OP.

I have a few friends who are KU alums and they've taken their losses this year super-rough, about what we've seen on the board here in the past 24 hours.  I appreciate your wisdom and perspective and hope more heed your advice.


February 13th, 2013 at 2:04 PM ^

Wow, that was well written.

Can any of those dachshunds hit a 3 with a hand in their face on the road?  I know they're a little small, but they look quick.



February 13th, 2013 at 2:13 PM ^

Excellent writing, good advice, but most impressively, I had to check Wikipedia because I couldn't tell if the dachshund thing was real or not.   (Worse, Naismith's actual life is still so funny that now I'm not sure if WIKIPEDIA is punking me.)

Arizona Blue

February 13th, 2013 at 2:22 PM ^

This is a great post and just what we need to hear as fans. I think  the OP summed up one of the biggest "Fan's Follys" that exists in sports and is something that I need to personally work on.

Great althetes of all sports typically experience greater sorrow from losing than joy from winning. It is the fear of failure, and the pain associated it, that has propelled many of the great athletes / teams to championships and success. Great teams dont take joy in winning, they expect to win. Winning is normal, losing is not.

As fans though we cant embrace this mentality as our own because it leads to ever pervasive sadness in sports....especially considering you are relying on the unreliable (18-22 year old young men) to bring you happyness. The point of being a fan is to be entertained and to have fun. Not to morph into a Meizer whos emotional spikes during the course of a game cause someone around you to think that Dr. Jakel and Mr. Hyde actually exists.

Hope the fan base, myself included, can do a better job of this..especially in football




February 13th, 2013 at 3:55 PM ^

This phenomenon that you mention is absolutely present in human psychology: they've found in many different situations that losing hurts worse than winning makes you feel good. For some reason, humans tend to react more strongly to negative outcomes than positive ones.

This is true in sports as well as finance (losing money on the stock market hurts worse than making money feels good). In an experiment, subjects were offered a deal which involves a 50-50 chance at one of the following outcomes: 1. Participant must pay $100 or 2. Participant is given $200. The average outcome from this is a gain of $50, but most people won't take the deal because the pain associated with losing the $100 far outweighs the joy of making $200!

Same thing here. It hurts much worse to lose (to Sparty especially) than a win gives joy (Rapture Guy notwithstanding). Sports fandom is tough.



February 13th, 2013 at 5:46 PM ^

And this probably isn't an original thought.  But being wrong/losing 50,000 years ago meant you made a mistake that could have cost your life.  Being right/winning meant you got to live and eat another day.  It's clear which should consume more time/energy: losing potentially means the end of everything forever, winning means another day in a long line - but finite in number - of days.  Now winning in this context could also mean the acquisition of something desirable, but even a great reward is likely to be less of an inducement than survival and the continuation of the line.

Hence we ponder the losses longer, to ensure they don't happen again, moreso than victories in terms of how we go about attaining more of them.  But what the hell do I know


February 13th, 2013 at 4:36 PM ^

I think there's very good empirical evidence for the hedonic treadmill that you describe. Here's an abstract for those interested:

Another thing to remember is that past events are remembered differently than actually experienced. We tend to remember the highest points, the lowest points, but most importantly the ending. Do well in the tournament, and all pain during the season is [mostly] forgotten.

Mich Mash

February 13th, 2013 at 4:37 PM ^

...and well done. Just wanted to say that your diary, above all other pieces about last night's game, provided me with a healthy perspective on this incarnation of the Michigan basketball team. I have to remind myself of the depth and breadth of the sheer misery of the decade of horror so that these bright spots shine ever brighter in relief.


February 13th, 2013 at 4:55 PM ^

I was ready to downvote this based on the title.  We don't need fans of other teams telling us how to be fans.  It's so condescending.... and then I read it, and you are right.  So very right.


February 13th, 2013 at 5:14 PM ^

from Bill Self on building toughness and off-ball defense. His high-low offense isn't always fun to watch, but they grind on both ends.

Fun fact: who is the only KU coach with a losing record? James Naismith.

UM Indy

February 13th, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

it can be distilled thusly:  KU basketball fans and UM football fans are similar in that we feel more relief than joy when we win, which in turn makes losses all the more painful.  Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself.


February 13th, 2013 at 6:13 PM ^

Ever since I've started coaching high schoolers, I feel I've gained such a better perspective. Similar to what you suggest, my expectations are now very low in my fandom. As a result, I enjoy wins more and I mourn losses less.

It's a much better way to enjoy life, that's for sure.


February 15th, 2013 at 3:49 PM ^

As a long time Kansas basketball fan (all my family is from there) I can appreciate this post.  I remember the bad tournament loses much more than wins, especially VCU, Bucknell, Viriginia, UTEP, etc.  The 1997 loss to Arizona still bothers me to this day, and I can only blame Ryan Robertson for that terrible loss.

It has been much more fun to be a Michigan basketball fan - the expectations are lower and every game does not have the chance to ruin my day.  This Michigan team is also more fun to watch than almost any Kansas team I can remember the 1997 team notwithstanding).  I know come tournament time, I will be enjoying each Michigan game and tolerating each Kansas game.

Paul Endacott is my homie...