KU athletics supporters, particularly devoted basketball fans, need to become part of the solution.
In the wake of Chancellor Douglas Girod’s decision to fire Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger on Monday, it is evident that no level of success on the hardwood can outweigh the sustained ineptitude on the football field. Over 10 years removed from KU’s Orange Bowl win and National Championship in 2008, the football program has been plagued in mediocrity, while men’s basketball has made two trips to the Final Four and solidified a record-breaking 14-year conference championship streak.
As a student at the university from 2013 to 2016, I watched a culture of disinterest and deprecation worsen quickly, culminating in a win-less season my senior year. I quickly grew tired of basketball signs at football games and lame jokes about getting revenge for blow out losses on the court instead of in the end zone. I saw a glimmer of hope from my first year post grad, when the Jayhawks defeated a decimated Longhorns team in November of 2016. Any notions of a ripple effect were quickly destroyed, as KU’s most noteworthy accomplishment of 2017 season involved Baker Mayfield’s crotch grabbing incident at Memorial Stadium rather than any validating victories.
I believe there is a cultural problem at the university that starts with the students and perpetuates with the greater fan base. The unwavering success of the basketball team has conditioned the community to a unattainable standard of excellence. Instead of embracing other sports that will always fall short of the admiration and acclaim of Bill Self’s squad, fans have chosen to disregard an important revenue-producing piece of the puzzle. The fundraising campaigns to renovate Memorial Stadium are understandably off putting to many. However, to simply ignore the implications of Kansas’ bottom feeder status in Big 12 football, is to jeopardize basketball at the same time. The basketball Big East was fractured and scattered solely due to football, and UCONN, a school with a similarly terrible football team and storied hoops program, now competes in the disjointed American Athletic Conference that struggles for an identity. Do you want to keep your precious Big 12 hoops rivalries? KU cannot continue to drag down Big 12 football’s television contract position without consequences.
With football in a state of national embarrassment, KU Athletics finds itself caught in a vicious cycle that can only be shattered with fan support. A poor on-field product yields low attendance rates, resulting in lost revenue (down about $6 million a year according to Lawrence Journal-World). Low fan buy-in breeds a losing culture, diminishing the attractiveness of an offer to play in the crimson and blue. A devalued recruiting pitch leads to a diluted talent pool, severely limiting the team’s ability to compete in a Power 5 conference.
Unsurpisingly, KU’s 2018 recruiting class, one of its best in recent years, has zero five star prospects and just two four star prospects. Those players, Corione Harris and Anthony Williams, both Louisiana natives, have largely been criticized and questioned for their decision to attend Kansas. Four of the 20 2018 players are not ranked by ESPN. For a school that has the legacy of Gale Sayers and current NFL standouts in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, there is a disconnect between the potential of the program and the current state of affairs.
A rebuild will not happen if Memorial Stadium is a ghost town on Saturdays. The health of the entire athletic department will continue to suffer if fans do not make the conscious, and even sometimes painful, decision to show up at games. Yes, the games when we will not even cover the spread. Yes, the games where you will want to hide your head in your hands. Yes, the games that make Late Night seem a little more important than normal. Regardless of whether David Beaty is able to convert on fourth and forever to keep his position, the attitude of the fan base needs to serve as a catalyst for change.
Premier high school football players do not want to have professors make sarcastic remarks about an endeavor they are dedicating most of their lives to day in and day out. Top tier prospects are looking to join a thriving atmosphere that connects them to the university for a lifetime. We have the playbook in our hands. I am beyond proud to call myself a Kansas basketball fan and be a small part in the tradition and passion that makes Lawrence one of the best college towns in the world. It is up to all of us who worship at the cathedral of basketball to infuse that energy into the football program. Last time I checked, Bill Snyder created a positive football culture in Manhattan. The way I see it, we are long over due to win the Sunflower Showdown when it comes to pigskin pride. Let’s make the next ADs job a little easier and bring the push to become a two sport school back into the light of day.