About a year ago, the Kansas University athletics program seemed to have a pretty good show going. Now, though, the crowd is restless and the tent is starting to burn.
Put another way, the outlook doesn't seem too brilliant for the Mudville Nine these days. Who's gonna be the heroic fireman to squelch the flames and repair the damage? Would you like to be the new athletics director for the troubled Jayhawks?
Kansas State with its flagship football program just hired Colorado Stater Tim Weiser as its new AD.
Weiser's package is something like $250,000 a year, about $85,000 more than the resigned Bob Frederick has been getting at Kansas. (And not a lot more than KU women's basketball coach Marian Washington will be hauling down under her new $210,000-plus contract. As I understand it, Marian's Nike money is above and beyond that $210,000 wallop which, I'll admit, astounds me.)
Lots of KU fans will tell you there's nothing wrong that a few zillion dollars wouldn't cure. It's not that simple, even if somebody found a surprise jackpot in the cash drawer.
Even though Kansas lands an alleged miracle-working AD at $300,000 or even $400,000, what can he do to produce a winning 2001 football season saddled with a terribly treacherous schedule? Suppose KU goes 3-8 or 4-7 to start off this new Golden Age and the newcomer has to replace Terry Allen and Co.
Another costly start-over where KU loses even more ground to the likes of K-State and Missouri?
Roy Williams's basketeers will produce their usual $4 million-or-so profit for the department. Women's basketball, barring a drastic turnabout, could cost another million bucks no matter what the coach is making.
Don't think there hasn't been a whopping amount of criticism from swimming and tennis people when they heard about the new women's basketball deal. They weren't alone. The outcry has crossed all gender and activity lines.
There's still static about KU's dropping men's tennis and swimming, Frederick and Co. keep catching hell for the handling of the case of the football players and the woman soccer player. There is a growing undercurrent saying chancellor Robert Hemenway is far too non-aggressive about the KU sports program and needs to be more like K-State's Jon Wefald, or be replaced.
Big Cigars are talking about a change in Strong Hall as well as in Allen Fieldhouse, where Frederick prevented any crisis by resigning for a teaching job.
Into this questionable atmosphere a new athletics director must take charge and show results pretty soon. Weiser at K-State seems closer to alleviating the basketball situation than anybody here can part the Red Sea and produce an immediate football winner. No matter the pay package, can KU's new AD act quickly enough to stop the present bleeding?
It all looked so promising last year when Williams decided to stay and hopes soared for a 6-5 or better football season. A lot of shoes had yet to drop because of the sexual assault charges against the gridders but for the most part, 2000-01 looked promising.
Football began to unravel, basketball fell a little short of expectations and KU continued to draw static about finishing 11th or 12th in Big 12 all-sports. Then came the guillotine treatment for tennis and swimming. You probably have some shortcomings of your own to cite, but that's the bare bones of it all. There's also a lusty flap about demanding more and bigger donations by basketball ticket-holders.
Little wonder Freddie, at his age, decided there were better routes to travel for good health and sanity. Not sure if he and chancellor Hemenway had some differences of opinion, but that's no longer a factor.
The guy who is squarely on the firing line is the chancellor. Does Hemenway take a more active role, can he find an athletics director, at any price, who can turn things around or will the tent continue to burn?
Again, you wanna guess what a black hole KU athletics would be if Roy had gone to Carolina?
Some time back, I expressed concern about soccer players, particularly the young fry, and the prospect they might suffer brain damage via headers striking the ball with the forehead to direct it.
Shouldn't have worried, says Mike Gaughan, local soccer coach. He sent me a piece on research by Dr. Donald Kirkendall, a clinical assistant professor orthopedics at Carolina-Chapel Hill. Heading is safe, he says, when a player is prepared.
"In purposeful heading, where you're actually trying to head the ball and actually do head the ball, the impact is spread out over the whole body because your head is fixed to your body by a tensed neck," says Kirkendall, considered an expert in his field. Accidentally heading, he adds, can lead to injuries because the neck and body are not braced for the impact. "The whole idea is to tighten up the neck. What that does is to make you a whole lot bigger than the ball. . . . the impact is spread over such a large area it's a fairly small impact." Now gonging into another player's head unprepared, that can be trouble.
The studies include research clear back to 1943 and you have to think he knows what he's talking about. So I've paid my penance, Mike. Still, I'll feel safer after they find helmets small enough for tests on lab rats in Canada where so much vital people research is done. As for kids, as the Scouts say, "Be prepared."