Earlier this week, a Journal-World editorial congratulated all those associated with Kansas University football for the excellent academic record posted by the players. For the second year in a row, KU placed 19 players on the Big 12 academic football team, tying for the top spot with Oklahoma.
Many deserve congratulations for this academic achievement, including Coach Weis for instilling tough, challenging classroom expectations, the players and the support staff headed by Paul Buskirk, who heads the academic tutoring program.
After all, the role and mission of the university is to provide an environment that supports young men and women in the classroom and prepares them to be contributing members of our society after graduation.
Time and time again, this writer has been told Coach Weis, more than any other recent KU football coach, has emphasized that academics are the No. 1 priority for his players.
However, with the amount of money being spent on the KU football program — highly attractive salaries being paid to the coaches, plans to improve KUs Memorial Stadium, the importance of revenue derived from football ticket sales to help fund “Olympic” sports, the importance of having a winning program to attract increased private fiscal contributions by generous alumni and friends, as well as to boost school spirit and enthusiasm — growing numbers of loyal KU fans are asking questions.
Just how important is it for KU to have a reasonably good football team? Who is responsible for giving KU the best chance to have a good team? The chancellor, athletic director, the head coach, alumni or donors? What does it say about the KU team that it currently is listed as 123rd in Sagerin’s national rating of 252 college football programs?
How many KU head football coaches have been hired away for better jobs by other colleges or professional football teams? Are KU coaches in high demand?
Are KU alumni, fans and school administrators satisfied to have just one major sport — basketball — with a winning program? (KU’s women’s track and field team did win the NCAA championship last spring.)
Is it possible to have top-flight academic programs and also have a highly ranked football program? Many say “no,” but the current Sagarin rating shows schools such as Wisconsin, Ohio State, Stanford, UCLA, Southern Cal, Texas, Duke, Vanderbilt and North Carolina all are considered excellent academic and research universities with considerably higher rankings in football than KU. They also have good basketball teams.
Mark Mangino was the last KU coach with several years of consecutive winning programs, but he was railroaded and forced out of his job by phony charges and accusations.
Historically, KU football fans have been, and are, forced to talk about “next year,” with the hope that “next year,” the team will be better.
How bad must the situation become before someone — the chancellor, athletic director, Kansas Board of Regents, or alumni — say something must be done? Years ago, there was serious talk about the possibility Kansas State University would be dropped form the athletic conference due to its extremely poor football program.
Then, KSU President Jon Wefald hired Bill Snyder as football coach, and look at the record — not only in football but in school spirit, climbing student enrollment, major increases in private fiscal support and major campus improvements.
KU is an excellent university with many outstanding programs ranked in the top 10 among all state-aided institutions. It enjoys a proud academic and research history, and few universities can match the loyalty and commitment of its alumni.
But, what must be done to keep the KU football program from being the doormat of the conference?
This afternoon could be a perfect time for history to show the KU turnaround started with a convincing win against the Kansas State Wildcats, who used to be the doormat of the conference.
Whether this afternoon or next week, something needs to be done, better than in past years, to give the players, the coaches, alumni, friends and the overall university a far better chance to enjoy the benefits and enthusiasm of a winning football program. Wait until “next year” cannot continue to be a weak, unfulfilled annual hope.