September 25, 2023

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Top Priority?

This past Saturday on the way to the Kansas University-Central Michigan football game, a former KU athlete stopped this writer and asked, “What do you think?” I said I thought the game was a toss-up but that it was crucial the Jayhawks started winning.

It was clear, however, the question was focused on the proposed $300 million remodeling and renovation of KU’s Memorial Stadium rather than the football game.

To paraphrase his remarks, he said the stadium project was the most critical challenge facing the entire university, not just the football program. The future excellence and growth of the university hinged on getting an upgraded stadium.

Others have echoed this idea saying the stadium project is vital for Lawrence, the state and for raising money for the university.

It would be interesting to know if this is the thinking of a majority of KU alumni, students, faculty members, state legislators, regents, the so-called “subway” fans and those who have been generous fiscal donors to the KU Endowment Association.

Would $300 million for stadium improvements be their top priority to help make KU a better academic, research institution? How about $300 million to improve faculty salaries, scholarships to attract superior students, funds to acquire badly needed laboratory equipment, funds to entice world-class researchers and other needs where the lack of state funding is handicapping KU’s climb to greater academic excellence?

Granted, many consider successful sports programs as a “front door” in attracting greater public interest in a university. Many times an individual who becomes excited about a football, basketball or volleyball program eventually will decide to give money to other university programs.

KU Athletics is not starving for monies. Its current budget is around $90 million with the highly successful basketball program attracting millions of viewers and raising millions of dollars for the athletic program. Private fiscal contributions to the Athletic Department is at an all-time high.

Maybe there are ways to build a winning football program without first spending $300 million on a major stadium facelift. How about trying to assemble a team of coaches and an athletic director who are so good they will attract the types of players necessary for a winning program? Then, initiate the stadium project.

A winning program attracts fans. Fans would fill what some consider to be an out-of-date, ugly, Memorial Stadium IF the team enjoyed consistent winning seasons. It’s not the shape or condition of Memorial Stadium that causes so many empty seats. It’s the record of the team and the coaches. The players are trying their best. They want to win more than any fan in the stadium but many times KU players are over matched.

The current thinking relative to the stadium matter seems to be a perfect example of trying to place the cart ahead of the horse.

Some of the hysteria about the need for a new stadium is based on the belief if KU doesn’t build a new or vastly improved stadium, Kansas may be dumped in an eventual reconfiguration of the five major collegiate athletic conferences.

According to this argument, being part of a power conference is vital for the university. Apparently a school’s sports image, which includes a modern stadium, is becoming more important than its academic image.

The debate relative to $300 million for an updated stadium is likely to continue and it will be interesting to see how many KU friends will come up with the necessary funds. Or, will KU Endowment be asked to allocate many millions?

A new or improved stadium would be nice but it seems wrong to suggest raising $300 million for a new stadium is the number one priority facing the university and Lawrence.

Go KU!