Editorial: Yes, focus on KU football

New University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod called on Lawrence business leaders this week to help support the university’s football program.

Speaking at The Chamber of Lawrence’s membership luncheon, Girod said KU football can be a key driver of the local economy. He noted that compared with a two-hour basketball game, football is an all-day affair that benefits the entire town.

“Just think economically what it would mean for this community if we could pack that stadium with 40,000 or 50,000 people for every home game, and just the sheer economics of that to this community,” Girod said.

Girod is right — improving football game attendance would be a significant boost to the Lawrence businesses. But before football attendance gets anywhere near 40,000 — much less 50,000 — KU has to put a better product on the field.

Since 2010, Kansas has the worst record — 15-73 — of any team in major college football, and there is a direct correlation between losing and attendance. Consider that Memorial Stadium attendance has decreased every single year for 10 years. In 2008, Kansas averaged 50,907 fans per home game, ranking 41st among all college football teams. Last season, Kansas attendance was just 25,828, ranking 82nd among all teams.

Not only was Kansas’ attendance the worst among the 65 teams in the five major conferences, but also Kansas trailed small schools such as Memphis, Central Florida, Temple, Appalachian State and all three service academies in attendance.

This season, Kansas is 1-3 and attendance has declined at each home game, from 32,134 for a season-opening win over Southeast Missouri to 23,901 for last Saturday’s loss to West Virginia. Kansas has four home games left. Barring a remarkable turnaround, the Jayhawks likely will see continued declines in attendance.

David Beaty is in the midst of his third season as KU’s coach. His record is 3-25. The football team is 10-54 during the tenure of Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, who hired Beaty and Charlie Weis before him.

Despite the records, Beaty and Zenger have Girod’s support, for now.

“I think we’re on the right path right now and we’ve just got to keep pushing, give it time,” Girod said last week in announcing a capital campaign to raise $350 million for facility improvements, including major renovations of Memorial Stadium. “But I do believe we’ve got to show that we mean it.”

Girod clearly understands the importance of the football program to the athletic department and the university as a whole. But if the university is going to get 50,000 fans back to Memorial Stadium — not to mention raise $350 million for stadium renovations — fans have to believe the football program is getting better. Unfortunately for the chancellor, there isn’t a lot of evidence yet that it is.