Archive for Saturday, June 19, 2010

Big 12 scare should spur re-evaluation, change at KU

June 19, 2010

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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.

Comments

LogicMan 4 years, 11 months ago

Not only does KU need to improve its position, but so does the community. KU is by far the largest employer in the immediate area, so making city and county economic and growth decisions that help KU are imperative. And yes, football is the highest priority, as is improving KU's rankings in academic guides to undergraduate education.

The community can help football by, for example, improving the Lawrence airport so that team jets can can fly in and out, and by improving roads to and parking at Memorial Stadium. Not to mention fans attending the full games. KU and big donors can help the latter by making ticket and parking prices attractive, if possible.

PugnaciousJayhawk 4 years, 11 months ago

What this University really needs is a leadership team that is not only accountable for their own actions but for the actions of those below them as well. The lack of internal controls in Athletics and in other various Schools within the University is truly troubling. The incoming Provost and the next Chancellor should clean house throughout the University so as to have the foundation necessary for a brighter future.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Have no fear! Those locals who believe they are the super Jayhawks will continue to do back door money deals at every opportunity. The outsiders who believe in big time corruption within KU and within the city. These super egos have taken KU and Lawrence down a dirty money path and have no will to stop. These folks and their lifestyles are far too important so they believe.

Along their way they have killed a lot school spirit and appreciation for KU athletics.

Can the FBI and IRS stop this reckless train?

olddognewtrix 4 years, 11 months ago

Mr Simons should have added a chastisement of our Mike Oneal Republican dominated "do it on the cheap" legislature for lackof funding of state universities(and education in general). We are turning into a very backward state, and likely to get worse with a Brownback teocracy .

Phillbert 4 years, 11 months ago

Strange that the anonymous "fans" that Dolph "quotes" speak exactly as he writes...

Also, anyone who thinks academics had anything to do with the conference realignment needs to wake up and smell the TV dollars.

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 11 months ago

"So many times, a minor heart attack turns out to be a life-saver..."

And then, the Captain stopped reading.

Why? Because I read all of last week's polemic, and my understanding was this was not a minor heart attack, the patient was already dead.

I suppose we should all be grateful This Reporter chose owning a newspaper as his profession and not medicine. He reminds me of the Bring Out Your Dead crew from Monty Python.

parrothead8 4 years, 11 months ago

Exactly. The columns this guy writes are a waste.

wastewatcher 4 years, 11 months ago

A great column by the the writer as usual. However , he left out one significant need , real solid fiscal management.. KU wastes far to many dollars to ever excel. Great Universities get great mileage out of each and every dollar they invest and spend,, KU DOES NOT. It is past time to to place a high priority on dollar management.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 11 months ago

Again, Mr. Simons is right on target. Leadership at KU has been weak and complacent for at least 10 years. The state legislature has also failed in its responsibility to KU to excel as a research university.

This combined assault has resulted in a KU that is slipping academically and in research.

KU needs to clean house, starting with complacent faculty and ineffective administrators. KU needs to make sure that the resources it does have are used in the most efficient manner. This means rewarding success and being truthful about non-productive faculty and administrators in the university, of which there are many. Give them a chance to improve, and then get rid of them if they do not.

RogueThrill 4 years, 11 months ago

While I will readily admit that the University I graduated from and currently work for is mismanaged at all levels, I don't think this article addresses the real issue.

KU was almost exiled into obscurity because we are poorly located geographically. Our football program could be as successful as our basketball team, We could have an 80,000 seat stadium that sells out every week, we could be as academically acclaimed as even the worst Ivy League school (Cornell, cough cough) and we would still be losers. Why?

Because Kansas is a wasteland. Our "population centers" are dismally small. The BigX, Pac-10, SEC, etc don't care about how good our basketball team is, sure. THey also don't care about academics or our football success. THey care about how many fat bottoms there are in the region who will watch us on TV.

And we just aren't big enough to bother for them.

So, what we should do, is maintain our basketball success, improve our football program, and massively reinvest in academics and infrastructure for the University. We should also do everything we possibly can to remain attached to Texas because we are never going to be financially attractive to a megaconference without them.

Gregory Newman 4 years, 11 months ago

What does academics has to do with TV dollars for sports. All of the universities in the nation is worthless. NAFTA/GATT is killing our kids. It is not about Black and White. It is about India, China, Mexico and Central America. I smell the fall Rome at home. The Black and White kids are steered to entertain us in sports the foreignors do the work and research for little or near nothing. Dude get real. "I will turn back the hands of time." New World Order." Trace those quotes. Sports is going to get bigger and better at the expense of the Black and White child the doesn't have the ability to perform athletically. These are not American Universities any more. You can get mad if you want to but you'll see.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 11 months ago

Roguethrill,

I agree with much of what you say except: "We should also do everything we possibly can to remain attached to Texas because we are never going to be financially attractive to a megaconference without them."

This is what Texas wants KU, and other Big 12 schools to think. Look at Nebraska, with a population as a state about half of Kansas. They will be just fine without Texas. Texas is a bully who wants KU and others to live in fear.

The reason Texas did not want to join the Pac 10 (or any other conference) is that they would not be able to bully around schools in those conferences. They would be one more big fish in a big pond already controlled by other big fishes. Texas cannot live with parity. They need to be bigger and more important than everyone else.

KU would have been fine. They would have joined the Pac 10 or more likely an invigorated Mountain West that would have gotten a BCS bid.

Instead, KU are now fearful little hangers-on, who think they are beholden to Texas. Pathetic, really.

RogueThrill 4 years, 11 months ago

Sue, we would have joined the Pac-10, but not without Texas. As soon as Texas put the kibosh on moving we no longer had an out.

Sure, we could have gone to the Mountain West, but we would have died there. A BCS bid is irrelevant. Conference season would have been a never ending schedule of regional TV instead of Big Monday games. We would have made way less money. Our new recruiting states aren't particularly well known for basketball superstars.

We would have turned into Gonzaga with more history.

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