Why did the Border War, KU vs. MU, return? A history lesson from a 2020 library forum

Jeff Roberson/AP

Former USA Today college sports writer Steve Wieberg moderated a Zoom conference call between then-Kansas athletic director Jeff Long and then-Missouri AD Jim Sterk on June 16, 2020. One of the main topics of discussion in a 75-minute Q&A sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library was the duo’s role in bringing back the Border War series in basketball and football.

Remember the two teams that had been playing football since 1891 and basketball since 1907 stopped in 2012 when the Tigers switched from the Big 12 Conference to SEC.

“Somehow in a time of our country’s deepest partisan divide I guess we should credit you two with finding detente. How did you finally get this done?” Wieberg asked the pair.

He was referring to the two ADs — Long left his post at KU on March 10, 2021, and Sterk departed Mizzou on July 26, 2021 — scheduling a six-game, six-year men’s basketball series between KU and Mizzou announced to the public in 2019. The basketball series renewed last season in form of a 102-65 KU victory at Allen Fieldhouse and continues Saturday at 4:15 p.m., when MU and KU meet at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.

The duo also set up a four-game series between the schools’ football teams to start in 2025.

“Kansas fans and alumni made this decision and Kansas coaches made the decision (to play again),” Long said to Wieberg.

Of course the six-game agreement needed the blessing of Jayhawk basketball coach Bill Self.

Self for years took the position it was not in KU’s best interests to play Missouri in men’s basketball unless the teams were in the same conference. However, Self, who later joked that he “had the seven-year itch (to play again),” actually changed his position about scheduling MU after the schools combined forces to participate in a charity basketball game called the “Showdown for Relief,” set up primarily by Self and MU’s Cuonzo Martin in October of 2017.

Proceeds from the exhibition game were gathered to support victims of natural disasters in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. The two schools raised $2 million while selling out Sprint Center in a matter of hours.

KU won the exhibition 93-87 in an entertaining, hard-fought game played on Oct. 22, 2017. Michael Porter and Billy Preston made rare appearances for the Tigers and Jayhawks, respectively.

“Coach Self recalled the charity game, the passion that was there, the rivalry that was there,” Long said during the Library forum.

“At the first meeting (between Self and Long discussing a Border War renewal) he talked about that. I think it kind of grew with him. He got comfortable with it. I think he saw a rivalry dying and saw a chance to reignite it before it totally went away. Bill’s being on board and being excited about restarting the rivalry was very important to us at KU. Other (KU) coaches also had that interest,” Long added.

One has to remember when MU left the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011-12 school year, KU coach Self “was very much involved in the decisions of the Big 12 (concerning realignment). Certainly (MU leaving) was personal for him,” Long told Wieberg.

Sterk explained MU’s stance on resumption of the Border War. He indicated that, just like at KU, “some (MU coaches and fans) were for (playing), some against.”

“Obviously, I heard about the rivalry when I came (to MU in August 2016) and I’ve seen some great contests nationally, previously. But two years ago, when we came together for a great cause, the Showdown For Relief exhibition, I saw the passion and support for a game like that. And I felt and hoped that someday it could happen on a regular basis. When Jeff became AD at Kansas, I reached out. And over a year and a half or so, we just started a conversation and it really came together,” Sterk said.

“We saw the passion around the charity game. That game came about for hurricane relief. We raised over $2 million for hurricane relief. It was special. I (thought), ‘Wow this is a charity game, doesn’t mean anything, but all the people were excited to be there at the Sprint Center. They (MU fans) are excited about it coming back.”

Sterk shared a story about how Missouri fans took notice when KU and MU agreed to play again.

“When we announced it … John Anderson of ESPN, an alum of Missouri, texted me (and) said, ‘You and Jeff (Long) deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing this back.’ It was funny.

“It didn’t happen right away. We started to talk football first. Basketball came about and we ended up getting that done sooner than the football games.”

Sterk had said he and Long discussed the resumption of the series for about a year and a half before talks became serious.

“Cuonzo was interested in doing it,” Sterk said. “I credit our chancellors as well. ... What we are trying to do is we want it to be a great rivalry game. We want passionate fans and also (to have) a great atmosphere and a great atmosphere of sportsmanship.”

KU-MU basketball series

Game One (2021-22 season): at Allen Fieldhouse. KU won, 102-65

Game Two (2022-23): at Mizzou Arena

Game Three (2023-24): at Allen Fieldhouse

Game Four (2024-25): at Mizzou Arena.

Game Five: (2025-26): at T-Mobile Center

Game Six (2026-27): at T-Mobile Center.

KU-MU football series

Sept 6, 2025: at Missouri

Sept 12, 2026: at Kansas

Sept 6, 2031: at Missouri

Sept 11, 2032: at Kansas