Friday, April 22, 2005


Woodling: Memorial Stadium perfect for Relays


Those of you sitting in Memorial Stadium today and Saturday watching the Kansas Relays are dinosaurs.

You are perched in the football stadium of a major university watching a track and field meet. You can't do that in many other places, certainly nowhere else in the Big 12 Conference.

Multi-purpose facilities are so yesterday. Tracks were removed from football facilities even before the pros stopped playing baseball and football -- Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, for example -- in the same stadiums.

Yet Hershberger Track remains in Kansas University's stadium, a reddish-orange Brontosaurus that refutes the inevitability of extinction.

Two and a half years ago, KU football coach Mark Mangino first stated publicly he wanted to consolidate the football facilities by moving the coaches' offices, lockers and training room from Parrott Complex up over Mount Oread and down to the base of Campanile Hill by the stadium.

In so doing, Mangino was following a national trend exemplified by the stately new football-only structures built adjacent to the stadiums at Iowa State, Colorado and Missouri, to mention a few.

At KU, however, the football stadium remains an anomaly, a dual facility in a homogeneous world.

When Mangino first broached the subject of consolidation in November of 2002, he was asked how he felt about sharing the stadium with the track program.

"I'm a lousy politician," Mangino replied. "I'm not touching that track with a 10-foot pole."

Then Mangino proved he was actually a pretty good politician after all by saying: "The Kansas Relays are a source of pride here. I know it's important to the university and to the community. For right now, the track is fine. When we have a great demand for tickets and people are knocking our doors down, then we'll discuss the track issue. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not touching that right now."

Nothing has changed. People aren't knocking the doors down for football tickets and the track remains in the stadium. In the meantime, fund-raising continues for a new building that will centralize the KU football operation.

And thus the questions linger -- Can Kansas University be a major player in college football as long as an incongruous track sits in its football stadium? Or would removing the track make any difference?

Since no one knows the answer, the track is staying.

It remains not because people want to plunk down their money and watch a bunch of Olympians cavort for three hours on a Saturday afternoon once a year. It's not because of the thousands of dollars the annual event plugs into the Lawrence economy.

The track is staying because of what happens during the day and a half the Olympians are not performing. That is when the high school and junior college athletes perform. That's when the university has a golden opportunity to showcase its scenic beauty for potential tuition-paying (many of them out-of-state) students.

We've heard talk over the last few years about tearing out the track, lowering the field and bringing the football fans closer to the action -- a move that would make Memorial Stadium as intimidating a venue for visitors as Allen Fieldhouse.

In order to do that, however, KU would have to build a new track and field facility because, believe me, schools do not drop track and field, not with it counting as three sports (indoor, outdoor and cross country) in NCAA terminology.

If Kansas did eventually build a new track and field layout, land availability almost certainly would dictate its location far from Mount Oread -- far from where the prep and juco students participating in the Kansas Relays would see it.

Only a small percentage of those prep runners, jumpers and throwers will become college student-athletes, but a large percentage will go on to college, and it is those future collegians who will keep Hershberger Track in Memorial Stadium.

Often overlooked is the fact university coaches aren't the only ones who recruit. And the Kansas Relays brings more potential students to the KU campus than any other spring campus event.

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