Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

Recent situations just a sample of challenges facing new AD

August 11, 2001


No one said the job would be easy or without headaches.

Al Bohl arrived in Lawrence at the end of July to take over as Kansas University's athletics director. The customary "honeymoon" period, when a newcomer is supposed to be free of challenges, did not last long.

There probably are a number of problems or challenges the public isn't aware of, but two situations have become public knowledge and offer a glimpse of the many headaches associated with the athletics director's job.

The first problem came about due to a decision by a television sports producer to have his network televise the Kansas-Wyoming football game on Sept. 15. This was the date set some time ago for KU's annual Band Day. High school marching bands from throughout the state, as well as from Missouri, have come to this event for more than 50 years, and a massive morning parade down Massachusetts Street has been a highlight of the event.

Unfortunately, TV executives decided to pick up an option to televise the game but said the kickoff would have to be changed to 11:30 a.m. This made it almost impossible to have the downtown parade, so it was canceled. The bands still will play at half-time of the game, but there's no parade.

This has triggered all kinds of criticism from many area residents who said KU was selling out to TV in order to get a fat paycheck. They accused KU officials of turning their backs on high school band members and said the action sent a powerful message that KU is more interested in making dollars than in working with the young people of the state.

A growing number of people interested in intercollegiate sports are concerned about the way TV now controls most facets of Division I sports. University officials throughout the country have given TV networks the power to call the shots, and they are doing just that.

Band Day is just one of the casualties; there are sure to be others because there is no way any KU official can guarantee any football or basketball game will start at a specific time.

Bohl was hit in the face by the Band Day matter and there was little, if anything, he could do about it. Even so, he and the university got a black eye out of the matter.

A far more personal situation was the announcement that the highly popular and able Scott McMichael had resigned his position as director of the Williams Fund. This fund develops private financial giving to the KU athletics program, and it has been highly successful. In the days of the Big Eight Conference, private giving to KU athletics programs ranked near the top of all conference schools.

McMichael was well-liked by KU sports fans throughout the country, and he did a top-flight job in representing the school and its athletics program. He was an asset to the university.

Something happened, however, and McMichael decided to resign. Bohl, as well as McMichael, offered little explanation for this sudden development. It must have been a blow to the new athletics director, who came to the KU job knowing increased private financial support for the athletics program would be one of his top priorities. McMichael, a former KU football player, had compiled an excellent record in this field, and he had displayed a great affection for the school and its athletics program.

Chances are, Bohl had counted on McMichael to play a major role in strengthening the financial structure of the KU athletics program and McMichael probably was enthused about the new leadership in the program.

Now, Bohl is faced with the challenge of finding a replacement, answering the inevitable questions about what happened and, in the process, maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of all parties.

Add to this how to increase ticket sales to KU football games, how to pay off the sizable debt, how to help recruit top-flight true student-athletes, how to use a successful athletics program to help enhance the academic mission of the university, how to improve physical facilities and how to generate increased public interest and support in the overall athletics program and university, and you have an idea of the ongoing challenges facing Bohl.

Bohl enjoys a successful record in his previous positions at other universities and, in KU, he is associated with a nationally recognized university, one of only 60 schools in the prestigious Association of American Universities.

It should be a winning combination. Even so, there still are the always-difficult, wrenching personnel situations that demand action but are, nonetheless, stressful and unpleasant.

And although winning football and basketball games helps reduce the number of critics, there always will be those who second-guess just about any action of an athletics director or his coaches whether it deals with a Band Day parade, recruiting efforts, the location of seats in Allen Fieldhouse or a revision of policies concerning tailgating at KU home football games.

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