Lack of support for football and other athletic programs at Kansas University affects more than the team on the field.
What does it say about the level of interest in the Kansas University football program when only about 26,000 people show up for a home game against Texas Tech?
With a KU student population of about 26,000 on the Lawrence campus, an additional 60,000 residents in Lawrence and nearby population centers in Kansas City and Topeka, the 26,000 spectators at last Saturday's game should be an extreme embarrassment to KU fans and officials.
Is it a matter of people not being interested in the KU football program or a case of ineffective marketing by athletics department officials, who are doing a poor job of selling the program during the summer months? Are Jayhawk alumni and friends only supportive of winning sports teams; are fans becoming tired of supporting losing teams? Perhaps you can supply your own reason for the small crowd. Maybe a large number of football fans chose to stay home Saturday to watch highly publicized games on television.
Regardless, the meager number of fans in Memorial Stadium had to be a disappointment for KU football players. There is no group more determined, more committed or more eager to win than the players. They work hard throughout the year, not just during the fall football season, to be in a position to post a winning record. Granted, most of them play because they enjoy the game and the competition. In some cases they may also hope to use their college playing days as a springboard for a professional football career. And college football gives them the important opportunity to obtain a college education.
Some "fans" are not overly enthused about the players, thinking they have an easy go, a scholarship and a pretty nice life. All that may be true, but that doesn't lessen the fact that they, more than anyone else, want to win. They don't like to be embarrassed by other teams. They are subjected to terrific physical demands, and they would like to think they have earned the support of KU fans.
Apparently, however, something has happened, and Saturday's crowd should concern all those who are interested in and supportive of the KU football program. Maybe a large crowd will be in Memorial Stadium for the home season closer against Texas, but even so, athletics department and university leaders need to address the program. Total attendance figures will not be available until after the final league game, but there's a good chance attendance at KU games in Memorial Stadium will be the lowest among the schools that made up the Big Eight conference and might even be the lowest in the current Big 12.
At a time when university leaders are stressing the importance of "excellence" in all facets of the university, they should not forget the importance of excellence in the athletics department. Last spring, a report was issued that placed KU at the bottom of the "all sports" ranking for Big 12 schools even though KU spent more dollars on their sports programs than some of other universities.
Maybe the embarrassing crowd this past Saturday in Memorial Stadium will serve as a wake-up call that corrective actions are needed in the athletic program. Interest and fan support for KU basketball could not be higher. It is great. This needs to be sustained and even strengthened, if that's possible, but the rest of the athletics program needs help. Clearly something is missing, and, like it or not, a successful athletic program pays dividends for the entire university in many ways. Excellence in the athletic program can help support and build excellence on the university's academic side as well.