Recent news stories tell of planning for the renovation and expansion of Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium, the seventh oldest collegiate stadium in the country.
This announcement was not unexpected as KU athletics officials have made it known for several years they want to take the running track out of the stadium, lower the field and thereby be able to add additional seats to bring spectators closer to the field, add suites along the east side of the stadium, probably make major changes to the “bowl” or north end of the stadium and upgrade numerous facilities and services.
Not long ago KU Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger said the stadium and the track was an embarrassment for KU fans and alumni because of KU’s stadium, with its inside track, being one of the few such stadiums remaining among Division I NCAA schools.
Added to this is the fact that Kansas State University officials and athletic department officials kicked off the current football season with a new and expanded stadium facility, and in college sports “keeping up with the Joneses” is the name of the game.
The KU stadium effort is going to be expensive and the timing of any expansion/renovation will depend to a great degree on how the Jayhawks perform in the remaining games on this year’s schedule. It’s far easier to generate interest and private fiscal support with a winning program than one that has haunted Memorial Stadium for so many years.
It’s believed the KU stadium project will cost $70 to $150 million and winning seasons would make a world of difference in money-raising efforts. Hopefully, this project will go more smoothly than the convoluted and questionable Rock Chalk Park project in which the KU athletics department played a significant role.
Any debate relative to the role, priority and/or importance of intercollegiate sports at a state-aided school such as KU should be answered fairly clearly when looking at the millions of dollars spent in recent years at KU to improve and/or add sports facilities. What if similar dollars were spent on further elevating those academic programs at KU that are rated first or second in the country?
The constant challenge is to make sure there is a proper balance between the academic and athletic sides of the university with academics always, always the top priority.