Mayer: KU’s Self has stayed above fray

Bill Self is a smooth, intelligent operator, far beyond being able to coach basketball darn well and recruit top-flight talent for Kansas University. He’s also doing a marvelous balancing act to keep the focus on a gleaming Jayhawk future despite the furor over ticket assignments for Allen Fieldhouse.

If he weren’t so affable and versatile, I’d be inclined to feel sorry for Self. He seemingly is caught in the middle of the basketball operation and the ticket issue, yet he has been handling it beautifully. If it ruffles him, it doesn’t show. Bill clearly has the ability to compartmentalize what is and what isn’t contentious and to stay out of the hassle. As Chico used to say on that television show, “Ees not my job.”

Regardless of who sits where and why, there is every evidence Kansas will have a terrific package to offer for 2004-05. Seniors Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee must stay hale and hearty, and sophomore J.R. Giddens needs to get over his various physical glitches. Barring injuries, looking good!

With that boffo freshman class which Self and Co. have lined up, five young men who appear ready to help right away, anyone with KU loyalties has reason to bubble and gurgle. The guys look coachable; Self can coach.

In the Big 12 Conference, Texas poses huge problems. Oklahoma State will be tough again. But with his shakedown season out of the way and with the fine personnel at hand, Self will provide fans a treat. With the people at its disposal, KU has the potential to nail the Big Three — regular-season title, postseason tourney title and NCAA Final Four, the way Okie State did last year.

As for the point system and the Allen Fieldhouse seating situation, I’ve heard from a number of pro-progress sources with legitimate views about what is happening and what needs to transpire. Lew Perkins and his new staff are getting a lot more influential backing than many might think. There are a number of folks not too sorrowful about the relocation of some longtime ticketholders who think they’re being sacrificed on the altar of financial expediency.

Got an e-mail from one of the older fans who’s not at all teary-eyed over the fate of some of the “blue-hairs,” a label for older nesters. I wrote back and got this reply.

“I didn’t make myself clear,” responded the family spokesman. “We ARE the blue-haired, 81-year-old, dedicated loyalists who helped KU get where it is and never asked any favors. We have donated to the university, in time (wife was KU art professor for 15 years) and money (and we don’t have a lot, just donated since 1939). We are a core group that has never been flashy and never asked for anything (except a few wins in football).

“I don’t recall many articles on how some old ‘blue-hairs’ are finally getting due credit. I have read many articles on the injustice of it all and how the people moving down won’t be as good supporters as the ones in the past.

“This is one blue-hair that is happy to move down before I die!”

Another of a number of loyalists firmly in favor of the current updating and modernizing plan for KU athletic finance is Pat Bolen. He’s a 68-year-old real estate owner and developer in Salina. He’s had basketball tickets since the Larry Brown tenure and football ducats for some 40 years.

“I’m three rows from the top on the west side of the fieldhouse. I see down below a lot of people from the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City area who have held choice seats for a long time, almost forever, without contributing much to the program,” Bolen told me by phone this week. “I’m no horrendous contributor, but I know I’ve been doing a lot more over a longer period than most of them, and it’s aggravating. I’m looking forward to moving down a ways, which my points will allow me to do. It’s overdue, and it’s time for more to pay up. I’ve talked to people in Salina, Tulsa, plenty of other places who think, as I do, that the new ticket plan is fair and in the best interests of the athletic department. Nobody wants anyone in pain, but there’s also a practical side.

“For the most part, KU fans are spoiled. Most of us have never been asked to step up and pay our share because there have been so many generous people like the Wards, Anschutzes, Andersons, Horejsis, Wagnons, Houglands, Stewarts … there are a lot more, of course, who have been so generous; I don’t mean to leave anyone out. We’ve all benefitted so much from that kind of generosity. Time for more people to pitch in.”

“Truth is,” Bolen continued, “KU has traditionally asked very little, too little, of its alumni. The time has come when KU has to get a lot more help to travel in the company it keeps. When Texas has an athletic budget of some $70 million, the least we can aim for is something like $40 million. I’m not sure we’re even up to $30 million right now.”

Larry Shaw expresses sympathy for people likely to be displaced by the new system but adds a practical note:

“…. Any sporting event I would go to such as Royals or Chiefs, if I wanted a great seat, I would have to pay more than the guy in the nosebleed section … my choice. These people (blue-hairs) might consider, instead of anger, feeling gratitude for the decades they enjoyed a tremendous bargain, having a great seat for the same price as a guy in GA (general admission). KU a long time ago probably should have established a system of pricing whereby GA was cheaper than the prime seats.”

Other writers and callers have tried to see both sides, others have been downright nasty about their resentment of the “blue-hair conspiracy, where too many have been babied and coddled for too long without paying their fair share.” And there are, as you see, those who think the new system is precisely what KU needs to operate in the modern maelstrom of high finance.

They don’t delight or chortle about old-timers being shifted, but they do espouse the old Don Corleone approach: “Nothing personal, strictly business.” In a lot of cases, that’s understandable.