Archive for Saturday, March 6, 2004

Mayer: Fieldhouse seating plan will break up old friends

March 6, 2004


Sadly, all good things end, no matter how we'd like them to be blessed with perpetuity. Thus it was inevitable, I suppose, that so many longtime Allen Fieldhouse "families" would be broken up by a new fund-raising policy involving points, patronage and preference.

When Kansas closed out its home basketball slate Wednesday, an awful lot of devoted, dead-loyal fans left the old barn unsure how they'd be fitted in next season. There will be a new policy for ticket assignment, they know.

Some who've been proud nesters since the place was dedicated in 1955 are fearful they don't have the credentials and cash to be back among a lot of their old cronies. That's troubling to them.

Athletic finances being what they are anymore, we have to accept that things were due to change even before athletic director Lew Perkins and Co. moved so forcefully onto the scene. It's understandable a lot of dedicated Jayhawk-backers felt maybe things could be grandfathered a little bit to the point that people would willingly accept reassignment or, worst case scenario, encounter infirmities, die and create vacancies.

Many of these diehards are old by anyone's standards, in their late 70s, even middle to upper 80s. They know they won't be around forever. They had every right to wish there could be a kinder, gentler way of handling the transition before the fieldhouse is transformed into an Oread Shekel Shack. Grace, charm, consideration, there are those among us who think such ingredients have been in too short supply of late.

A lot of the early anger has faded; most have become resolved to whatever fate awaits them. But it's worth a flashback to a remark by a grizzled academic who's been active for decades.

"One of the first things they do anymore is waste money on a consultant," he barked. "From my experience, they could have spent a million bucks for some consultant to come in and purposely screw up the public relations and he couldn't have done as good a job as these amateurs did."

You've heard the popular definition: "A consultant comes in to solve a problem, and soon he's part of the problem."

So much for anger, and there has been a lot of it. Fortunately it's fading somewhat. More important are the human aspects of all this.

"I'm afraid the new situation will break up some unofficial families," commented a retired former department head and distinguished professor. "Over the years, a gang of us who have sat together have exchanged holiday cards, had potlucks at our houses for radio and TV on road games, have come to know each others' kids and grandkids and have sat through a lot of terrible games just to support the Jayhawks.

"When they began shifting people around and some of the folks like that are moved or dropped by the wayside, where's that old camaraderie and drop-dead loyalty that brought people out whether they were winning or losing?

"Can any kind of new system where money is such a big factor engender that kind of climate? Suppose they run into bad years and drop back to some of the 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 crowds I can recall in the 1960s. Will the people so eager to pay premium prices now stick with them the way we have since the 1950s?"

While many of these old-timers didn't cause the treasury to overflow, they still kicked in steady contributions, some of them surprisingly big considering their ranges of income.

Attendance? When Nolen Ellison of KU and Ken Doughty of Missouri duked it out one night in 1963, there were 2,800, repeat, 2,800, bodies in the hall. In the two years Wilt Chamberlain was here, 1957 and 1958, there were eight non-sellouts and several other games where the bean-counters were generous.

In 1959, KU and Colorado were battling for the league lead and played the first nationally televised Saturday afternoon game in AFH. KU busted a gut to cram the joint and put $2 tickets on sale. If you bought one, you got a second free. Colorado won a heck of a battle, 66-64. Yet the ending got lost on the tube when network commitments for a horse race took precedence.

Laugh not, folks. There have been some mighty sparse turnouts since the 1955 opening. If the Jayhawks flounder the rest of this year and don't explode next season, there'll be more spectators disguised as empty seats.

The pressure not only is on KU football to start producing more money but also on men's and women's basketball to keep the line moving. The women now lose about $1 million a year; football hasn't become any major cash cow; men's basketball remains the aorta of the bank vault.

It's understandable Perkins and Co. figure they have to strike while the iron is still hot from the fading afterglow of the Roy Williams reign. With Texas boasting a $74 million jock budget and teams like Kansas not even approaching half that, new sources for the KU ledger were mandated.

Most of the critics understand that and agree with the yuppie-types and MBAs who clamor for onward and upward. It's just that things were handled in a ham-handed way for too long before a more moderate, affable approach began to emerge.

Let's hope, deeply, that whatever system is put in place helps reunite a lot of those old "families" who have contributed so much to the scene and creates many new ones with the same kinds of admirable, and vital, Crimson and Blue traits.

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