Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Woodling: Van Saun good fit for job


Paul Van Saun was a solid starting defensive tackle for Kansas University's football team as a junior back in the mid-70s.

Prior to his senior year, however, I wrote that Van Saun was in danger of losing his job to a junior named Mike Butler. I remember the article because Van Saun's wife reacted at the time by informing me in no uncertain terms that I didn't know what I was talking about.

That was my introduction to Debbie Van Saun. Eventually, Butler not only won the starting job that year, he earned first-team All-Big Eight honors. A year later, the Green Bay Packers selected Butler in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Time had vindicated me, but I wasn't about to lord it over Debbie Van Saun. I admired her moxie. Most women don't display that kind of stand-by-your-man passion. In fact, over the years, I've probably had only a handful of females complain about something I penned concerning either their boyfriend or husband.

Sure, I was surprised when the KU athletic department hired Van Saun as senior woman administrator. Most people were. Heck, her only real experience with athletics came when the two Van Saun children competed in high school and college swimming.

She has spent most of her working life with the City of Lawrence, most recently as assistant city manager. But if you're wondering whether Van Saun is qualified for the highest post a woman can attain in a college athletic department short of becoming the AD, don't.

Van Saun is no yes-woman. By the force of her personality, she could make an impact on the KU athletic department's burgeoning bureaucracy. She should be a vocal advocate at a time when KU women's athletics needs more than a hug and a wait-'til-next-year.

KU women's sports are treading water. With an occasional exception, they are not competitive in the Big 12 Conference and, in large part, that's because of inferior facilities.

A year or so ago, the current regime convinced KU students they needed to increase their fees to pay for a new boathouse for the rowing team.

Parenthetically, rowing is very important to KU athletics because it attracts women in sufficient numbers to help maintain the mandated Title IX equality skewed by the 100 or so football players.

Clearly of lesser importance to KU athletics are women's soccer, softball, swimming and tennis. KU has an unfinished softball diamond, a sub-par soccer facility, an outdated pool and no indoor tennis building.

Even though contributions to the Williams Fund have nearly doubled over the last four years - thanks mainly to the merciless gerrymandering of Allen Fieldhouse for men's basketball - not enough of that additional money has trickled down to women's athletics.

When the NCAA mandated the creation of the SWA post in the early '90s, the message was clear. The NCAA was serious about equality. But how serious is Kansas?

No one knows how long it will take Van Saun to adjust to the athletic department atmosphere, but I sure hope it doesn't take long.

Hopefully, she'll hit the ground running.


JBurtin 12 years, 6 months ago

I would agree that more money needs to be spent on women's sports. But I think you have to take into account the fact that even a fairly successful women's program is unlikely to bring in the money that men's basketball and football are raking in, or even pull it's own weight in terms of profits.

For now I think that it's best that KU spends the bulk of the money coming in to: A) keep men's basketball at the high level that it has always been at and B) make men's football the kind of cash cow that other Big Twelve school's have.

When KU has insured that the big money makers are keeping up with the Jones', then we will have a consistent and predictable source of income from which to pull to fund less profitable programs.

I'm proud that KU has talented women's soccer and volleyball teams, and has a women's basketball program that is on the rise. I want to see all of these sports get better facilities, playing fields, etc . . .. I just don't want to see the sports that provide the money for those programs to exist fall into disrepair.

Women's soccer has been waiting a few years for a new stadium of some sort, but football has been waiting for forty years for someone to stop neglecting it. I think that the plans to help the less profitable sports are on the Lew Perkins agenda, they just aren't the first priority.

hawker00 12 years, 6 months ago

I agree with JBurton. It is pretty obvious (and I read an article about this a few years ago) that football brings in the largest profit or has the ability to bring in the largest profit for an athletics department. There are some schools, if I remember right from the article that I read, that football is the only sport that actually brings in a positive cashflow to the department (not including donations). If KU had put in the effort to build the football program up like they are now, then they may have been able to allocate more money towards the less profitable sports.

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