So many times, a minor heart attack turns out to be a life-saver for the individual because the scare of coming so close to dying causes the person to take corrective actions. He or she makes lifestyle changes to produce the best odds of living a healthy life for many years to come.
Kansas University has had such a scare over the past several weeks. If the Big 12 conference had imploded, it would have left KU in an extremely vulnerable and weakened position, which could have been disastrous for KU in many ways.
This very real scare, which came oh so close to being a reality, could have been a death blow to KU.
Fortunately, this near-miss could, and should present a perfect opportunity for the university to take a close look at itself and figure out what it must do to remain healthy and stronger.
Unfortunately, too many on the campus and in Allen Fieldhouse, as well as alumni and friends, seem to think the new conference alignment is a sure thing for the next five, 10 or 15 years. It isn’t.
That kind of thinking, complacency and arrogance by some is the surest way to bring on another “heart attack” for the school — this time perhaps a much more serious attack that would leave the university either severely paralyzed, handicapped or dead.
A longtime, loyal and generous KU alumnus told this reporter, “When are KU fans going to realize KU basketball doesn’t mean a thing? … Football carries the load. KU has been lethargic in football. These people have their heads in the sand. They need to realize this recent conference mess is a blessing in disguise in that it gives KU officials and alumni the time to get their act together. The Jayhawks got lucky, but there is no guarantee they will be lucky the next time a conference rearrangement takes place.”
Another fan said, “KU has to clean up its act and realize academic standards play the major role in the perception of a university and that KU’s standing within the conference, as well as nationally, has been slipping.”
Yet another fan said, “We need to get a whole new generation of fans excited and concerned about their university. There is far too much provincial thinking, complacency and lack of leadership at KU.”
What it boils down to is that the precarious position KU found itself in came as a shock to many university supporters. More people than ever before were scared about what could happen to their university because of this potential athletic conference breakup. Nothing a chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents or state legislators may have said in the past or currently about dangers and challenges facing the university had ever hit a sensitive nerve as powerfully as did the news KU might be left on the sidelines and relegated to a lesser athletic league or conference.
They suddenly realized it would affect far more than just the “jock” community. It would damage most facets of the university; it would hurt Lawrence, the state and even greater Kansas City.
The deadly disease of complacency, the arrogance of some, the lack of vision, the inability to take advantage of all the assets the university enjoys, the thinking by many that KU has always been a great school and by some automatic or guaranteed blessing always will be a great school, all have combined to lure KU — and its recent and current school officials and alumni — into a potential death spiral.
Having avoided this fate, at least for an unspecified time period, where does KU go from here?
Obviously, there needs to be a major change in KU’s thinking. University leaders, regents, state legislators, alumni and friends need to adopt a new way of thinking about the university.
They must become far more competitive in their approach to making KU an even better university — not just in sports but, even more so, in terms of building and raising KU to a higher level of academic and research excellence.
Nebraska didn’t get an invitation to the Big 10 conference merely because it was able to fill its stadium with 85,000 red-clad fans for a football game. They got the invitation because their chancellor and athletic director have the vision, courage and desire to try to better their school, take the initiative and build a case, whether totally accurate or not, that NU would be a good addition for the Big 10.
Whether or not this proves to be the case won’t be known for some time.
There’s no question that, at their press conference, Nebraska leaders gave the impression of looking down their noses at the Big 12 schools. They presented a case that they were better, superior to KU and the other schools and that the Big 10 was a far better fit for them, academically, research-wise and athletically.
This should trigger the competitive juices of KU officials, the regents and alumni leaders. If it doesn’t, we have the wrong people in these positions.
Nebraska officials have said to their former conference members, “We’re on our way to the Big 10. It’s a better conference for us; watch us grow and excel.”
KU’s response should be, “OK, but watch us grow and excel. We’re going to beat you! We don’t know about the rest of the conference, but we intend to engage you in a healthy race to see just which school merits the overall leadership position.”
Nebraska officials placed much emphasis on the academic/research excellence of Nebraska, but until just recently, KU ranked higher than its neighbor to the north in the much-touted U.S. News and World Reports ratings. It wasn’t until the last few years that Nebraska tied KU in this ranking, and that wouldn’t have happened if KU leaders had been more aggressive and effective in raising KU’s academic excellence. Complacency, along with a lack of vision and leadership, have seriously handicapped KU.
This has to change if KU is to grow!
Some at KU have said the current alignment of 10 schools in the Big 12 is a done deal and that worry about a further breakup or raids by other conferences is a thing of the past. They are not shooting straight with the public and KU supporters. There is sure to be change.
Do those who profess interest and support for the university really have a fire in their belly to make KU a better university? Or do they just “talk” about the challenge?
Do they think that millions and millions spent for costly locker rooms and offices for KU players and coaches, new practice fields, rooms filled with fancy muscle-building devices and huge salaries for an increased number of coaches and athletic department staff members all add up to a highly respected center for learning and research?
Those interested and committed to a greater university must redouble their efforts to improve the school academically. They must be realistic about this quest, not just give lip service to the matter.
Sure, the university needs to field truly competitive teams in a broad range of sports, and it must have the type of leadership in this arena that merits the respect of all those on the campus, as well as athletic and academic leaders of other major universities.
KU, the entire university, just had a mild heart attack. Fortunately, not too much lasting damage was done. If KU takes care to eliminate bad practices and commits to challenging therapy and recovery measures, it can emerge in an even stronger and more competitive position.
It can’t be accomplished, however, with weak leadership, a lack of vision, questionable commitment and the almost-fatal sense or attitude of complacency. There’s no justification to think that past excellence makes it almost automatic that KU always will be excellent.
Those genuinely interested and committed to the university must demand more, demand far better performance by those who serve on search committees to fill important positions at KU, demand more from those serving as regents, demand more from state legislators, demand more from the chancellor and deans, demand more from the KU Endowment Association. All these individuals need to become far stronger and perform better in the critically important and highly competitive game of academic and research excellence.