MANHATTAN, Kan. - There are times when Kansas State president Kirk Schulz is traveling on business - could be to drum up support for the biology program, or perhaps to discuss serious issues affecting other land-grant schools - and his conversations drift toward sports.
Given the year the Wildcats have had, it's only natural.
Maybe even inevitable.
Led by Bill Snyder, their chronically underrated and overlooked football program won its second Big 12 championship last fall, and if not for a miserable night against Baylor, might have played for the first national title in school history.
Fast-forward a few months, and with new coach Bruce Weber in charge, the Wildcats thumbed their noses at prognosticators who picked them to finish in the bottom half of the league. The men's basketball team instead tied Kansas for its first conference title in 36 years.
Only Oklahoma and Texas have won Big 12 football and basketball titles in the same year.
Throw in an Olympic silver medalist in high jumper Erik Kynard, a volleyball program that qualified for the NCAA tournament, a new basketball training facility and a $75 million expansion to the football stadium, and it's been a banner year for Kansas State sports.
"When I'm particularly on the east and west coast,'' Schulz said, "one of the first things people talk about is football, and now our success in basketball. I hear from colleagues and people I run into, and it still ends up being the No. 1 thing that opens up conversation.''
The 11th-ranked Wildcats enter the Big 12 tournament this week at the Sprint Center as the No. 2 seed. And if things fall right for them in seeding for the NCAA tournament, Kansas State could play the first two games of that tournament in Kansas City, too.
It's heady stuff for a school that less than two years ago was wondering whether it would be shuffled out of the Big 12, or all major conferences, during a period of realignment. Nebraska and Colorado departed, followed by Texas A&M and Missouri. But with the addition of TCU and West Virginia this season, and the new leadership of commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 has stabilized - and in some ways, become one of the strongest leagues around.
"Sports do a great job of letting people feel good about your institution,'' Schulz said.
It's hard to decide which was the bigger surprise this year, the football program reaching the Fiesta Bowl or the basketball team going 25-6 overall and 14-4 in the conference.
Most people close to the program would choose hoops.