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Archive for Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Column: Football stadium isn’t the only KU embarrassment

June 28, 2014

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Several years ago, Kansas Athletics officials started talking about major renovations to Memorial Stadium, home of the Kansas University football team and host site for the nationally known Kansas Relays.

Apparently, in the eyes of some within the athletics department, the existence of a track inside the stadium was an “embarrassment,” with officials saying alumni, fans and those in the department were embarrassed to be one of only a few major universities with a running track inside its football stadium.

Numerous ideas about possible renovations for the stadium were floated to excite and enthuse potential donors and the public.

Officials talked about taking out the track, lowering the field and adding 10 or so new rows of seats so fans could sit closer to the playing field, thereby creating a more hostile environment for visiting players — and taking in more money.

Also, a significant effort was made to add a private “touchdown suite” club from goal line to goal line atop the east side of the stadium. A common area, or meeting place, would connect the west-side suites with the new east-side suites along the north rim of the stadium.

This plan included squaring off the north end “bowl” of the stadium, moving the playing field further north and adding a large patio gathering spot at the south end of the stadium. This would be at a level higher than the playing field.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, none of these dreams or ideas came to fruition. Lowering the field was the top priority, which, in turn, would necessitate eliminating the track.

Athletic department officials are careful not to pinpoint the reason none of the renovations have been initiated, but it is clear the No. 1 reason is the football team and its losing record, thus the less-than-enthusiastic support from potential donors.

KU fans were excited and enthused about the leadership and winning record of former coach Mark Mangino, but due to a severe personality clash, ego and questionable accusations, former Athletic Director Lew Perkins, with little finesse, got rid of Mangino. (KU fans will have another chance to watch Mangino in action on Nov. 8, directing the Iowa State offense when the Cyclones play the Jayhawks in Memorial Stadium.)

Since Mangino’s departure, there have been two new football coaches, Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, with a combined record of nine wins and 39 losses.

KU athletic officials talk about the stadium and its track not measuring up to those at peer institutions and being an embarrassment. They say fans are embarrassed about the stadium and the track.

Critics of the athletic department program point out the real embarrassment is the team’s record, not the track or stadium.

Facilities do make a difference, particularly in the game of recruiting. If a team is winning, fans will pack the stadium regardless of the amenities, whether or not there is an inside track circling the field. However, in big-time athletics, pampered and glorified players place significant importance on stadium or arena facilities, locker rooms, special housing and all the other “extras.”

Consider the Allen Fieldhouse situation: winning teams, year after year; fewer coaches (10) than KU chancellors (17) over the years and far fewer than the revolving door of football coaches (38). The past three coaches — Larry Brown, Roy Williams and Bill Self — have compiled a record of 878 wins and 124 losses. By the way, KU has had 19 athletic directors.

This kind of record stimulates fans, major contributors, ticket sales, fancy new facilities for the players, constant improvements to Allen Fieldhouse and a high international image that is a terrific assist in recruiting top players.

Who knows the price tag and how long it will take to lower the football field in Memorial Stadium and add thousands of new seats adjacent to the field and more high-priced seating in suites? How long will it take to develop a sustained winning tradition in KU football?

This being the case, KU athletic officials apparently believe it is important to show some evidence of trying to pretty up the stadium so it isn’t an “embarrassment.” They began this week by starting to remove the synthetic track, along with the pole vault and long-jump runways. The track area will be covered with a swath of fake grass. The public is told the reason for the new turf is that it is a major improvement for the safety of our players.

Will this attract more fans and win more games? Not likely. What’s important is winning more games, and, certainly, Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger and Coach Weis are well aware of this reality.

The KU athletics department is BIG business — big dollars and big employee numbers. Annual revenues are more than $90 million, and that number will continue to climb through television revenues. According to phone-book listings, the department has 283 employees, and some of those phone numbers may serve more than one employee.

It’s nice an anonymous donor has given $500,000 to pay for the cosmetic stadium facelift, but the new turf will be trashed when and if the field is lowered. Could the $500,000 have been better spent in some other stadium effort?

Recently, the Kansas State University athletics department announced plans for a $2.4 million upgrade of the scoreboard and sound system in K-State’s basketball arena, Bramlage Coliseum.

K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber said the new video boards, sound system and lighting will bring “great energy” to the program and that the “improvements will only make it a more intimidating place for opponents.”

Maybe this is what Zenger and Weis are hoping will be the result of removing the track and adding the fake turf: making Memorial Stadium more intimidating to Jayhawk opponents.

Something needs to be done to fix the “embarrassment” and improve the intimidation factor — both with the stadium and the football program.

Comments

Lawrence Morgan 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The football stadium should be changed into a soccer stadium.

Parents are already taking their kids to soccer practice and games, because of the risk of concussions in football. The risk of concussions, along with a consistently losing KU team, suggest that it's time to rethink the entire football arena, and not to continue to pour thousands of dollars into a losing team and stadium.

Instead, that money could go for much better purposes. Is this a university, or is it primarily a football club? If you aren't sure of the answer, just follow the money, and you will be able to see for yourself where the money goes.

I don't know why alumni pour their hard earned (I suppose) money into KU's football team at all. Can't you imagine the excitement if that money instead helped reduce college tuitions, we had a chancellor who actually cared about academics, and important new discoveries were made that matter in all kinds of fields-- such as an ebola vaccine and a malaria vaccine, for instance.

It wouldn't take that much to make KU into a real first-rate university, especially if the money now dedicated to football was put into other fields instead.

Then we would be helping the world take new steps forward in many different directions - instead of a wasted afternoon spent watching a football team that doesn't bear watching in the first place, and hasn't for a long time.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree with you about soccer, except they get concussions too. I prefer soccer, because you can be pretty sure that the game will take about 2 hours, instead of 4. You might have 5 minutes stoppage time at the end of a game, but it takes 5 minutes. The last 5 minutes of a football game can take a half hour to play. Boring.

And fútbol equipment doesn't cost as much as football. More money to go into academics.

Robert Rauktis 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The currency, if you will, is unfortunately football. So the square peg of that reality will always be stuffed in the round hole of the locale. As pointed out above, I'd think no one actually sees the track unless they're looking for it. And if they're looking for it, that's the fault of the product on the field which is in sad decline since Mangino was stampeded by a despot. Mangino had teams which at least appeared to put effort on the field.

Some even know the track supported a world dominate sports in Track & Field. But AFH had the indoor track, so some change is inevitable. Tradition can also draw spectators and bodies. AFH is an example. Although maybe more seating instead of the damn windows from a different age ? Way uncool.

It's sad that a university, supposedly a institution of truth, has to hand out such utter and complete disingenuity as this "track" red herring. Get a football team which can play football. And remind the execs in KUA, Inc. that they don't need anymore cross country facilities. Rim Rock is fine.

Richard Heckler 5 months, 3 weeks ago

We all know new cosmetics do not make a winning football team. It's the coach and the players.

I believe the LJW should stay out of it and KUA should stop spending money recklessly.

KUA got money to burn? Place it in the hands of needy students as non athletic scholarships for those demonstrating academic drive and tons of self motivation.

Leslie Swearingen 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Excellent column, Mr. Simons, and all too true. But, people do spend a lot of money watching others play sports, it's super entertainment. I do think though that a nice soccer pitch should be considered and maybe we could start going to those games more.

I remember when the Dallas Cowboys got their new stadium that cost a billion dollars to build and all that got that was a really nice place to lose it. The commentators did like their new digs though. All of this for only eight days out of the year. How many home games does the KU football team play?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 months, 3 weeks ago

"Since Mangino’s departure, there have been two new football coaches, Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, with a combined record of nine wins and 39 losses."

Are their any people left who do not see the problem?? In the past few weeks, the JW sports page has been splattered with endless stories about two BASKETBALL players who came to KU announcing up front that it was their intent to go as fast as possible to the pro teams. Players that were touted as God's answer to the basketball team. Players who did not significantly effect the yearly floppola of the basketball team in the national tournament. Players that left a university that had spent a lot of money on them. And then they were off to the billions of the pro leagues.

You don't see the problem with the football team "embarrassment"?? What football team ?? We got BASKETBALL!!!! Complete with a yearly aggregation of one-year wonders who are going to continue to get scholarship money and then sprint for the REAL money.

You don't see the problem with this?? I do.

Kendall Simmons 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Sorry, but Mark Mangino, himself, was a despot as well. And a number of campus employees (both students and staff) know it from unpleasant firsthand experience.

Having a winning football team is great, but it doesn't give the head coach the right to be rude, demanding and downright abusive to people when they don't cater to his every whim. Nor does it give him the right to attempt to physically intimidate people.

If Mangino was "stampeded", he brought it on himself. And I'd point out that, under completely new management, we have an athletic department that is now punishing student basketball ticket holders for the loss of a measly $350,000. So I'd suggest that this bullying, "despotic" behavior is a culture, and not something just limited to one person.

(As an aside, hiring Turner Gill was an INCREDIBLY stupid decision and I have fully expected it to take several years to get out of the incredibly deep chasm he dug for us. But we've NEVER had a topnotch football program and I never expect we will. Nor do we need one.)

Brett McCabe 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Mangino is the most overrated coach in KU history. Todd Reesing: lightning in a bottle. All of the other years - below average.

Bob Reinsch 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm confident that this type of editorial will be reinforced with a substantial donation to the KU Football Program by Mr. Simons, something in the 50 million dollar range. With that, we can declare his sponsorship of the far-right goal post.

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