Kansas football coach Lance Leipold saying the 85-man scholarship limit is in reach is a feat worth celebrating as much as any KU victory

Kansas head coach Lance Leipold waits to lead his team onto the field before an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

For years, different Kansas football coaches have stood at the podium at various times of the year and danced around the question about where the program stood in terms of overall scholarship numbers.

On Wednesday, while discussing the early portion of KU’s 2022 signing class, first-year KU coach Lance Leipold hit it head-on and then moved on like nothing had happened.

Based on what he said, I expected balloons to drop and sirens to sound. And if they had, it would not have been an overreaction in any way.

Make no mistake about it, Leipold’s answer to the question of how close Kansas will be to the 85-man scholarship limit next season was a big deal. Huge, in fact.

“I think we have a chance to be there,” he said. “We could put a lot of people to sleep with this subject.”

Wrong, coach. People — diehard Kansas football fans, especially — have spent an extraordinary amount of time during the past decade wondering about that very question, obsessing over that number and being frustrated and outraged by KU’s inability to get back to it.

And now you, like Santa himself coming down the chimney, are telling them you’re close? Forget Mrkonic Auditorium at the Anderson Family Football Complex, this press conference should’ve taken place on a mountain top with Leipold shouting through a bullhorn.

But that’s not his style. And, really, KU’s scholarship deficit has not been nearly as hard on him as it has been on KU fans and the players who have endured it. So it makes sense that Wednesday did not unfold like the final scene from an episode of Supermarket Sweep. But if that’s how his words made you feel, don’t be ashamed.

Failed junior college experiments, small senior classes and a revolving door of departures from the program all have played a role in Kansas football operating with fewer scholarship players than pretty much every one of its Division I opponents during that time. And that lopsided playing field led to lopsided outcomes on the scoreboard.

There were still a few of those during Leipold’s first season at Kansas — a 2-10 run that just recently ended — but the fact that things may soon be more level is arguably the biggest news to hit this program in the post-Mark Mangino era.

In short, it gives KU a chance again.

Leipold’s coaching chops, his staff’s ability to find and develop players and whether or not they sign the right players also will be key components of KU having a chance.

But giving them a full roster to work with only increases their chances of turning this thing around. After all, playing with a short deck is like hoping to hit blackjack without the dealer holding any aces.

Kansas no longer has to worry about that. And it will be interesting to see how many aces are flipped over moving forward.

It’s far from a guarantee that they’ll hit 85 scholarship players in 2022. The transfer portal and fluid reality of the new era of recruiting leave that a little open-ended. But at this point, after all the program has been through, including bottoming out at nearly half that number, knowing that 85 is finally on the radar again seems like a massive victory.

Now we have to see if that leads to more victories on the field.


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