KU softball deserves upgrade

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Glen Mason may not have been the most popular football coach in Kansas University annals. Mason could be gruff at times, downright surly at others.

But I respected Mason from the start. Why? Because he inherited the worst collection of college football talent I ever saw, and he never complained.

During that dreadful 1-10 season in 1988, Mason never made excuses. He never whined it wasn’t his fault. He never blamed anything on his predecessor.

Mason’s inflexible aversion to blame-placing came to mind not too long ago when Kansas Athletics Inc. announced plans to build an Olympic Village north of 19th Street.

According to an external gender equity report from a consulting firm — what would we do without consulting firms? — Kansas Athletics Inc. has fallen behind in women’s athletic facilities “because they were neglected by the previous athletic administrations.”

Previous administrations? Ah, the blame game. Hey, it’s not the current regime’s fault. It was those darned myopic people who preceded them. Or is that report a half-truth?

In my opinion, baseball-softball is the most glaring of the sports gender inequities on campus today.

In the last few years, additions to baseball’s Hoglund Ballpark include an indoor batting facility and, new this year, a plush clubhouse plus a gathering area for donors much like the swanky Naismith Room in Allen Fieldhouse.

Meanwhile, across the parking lot, softball’s Arrocha Ballpark has had one upgrade since it opened five years ago. Lights were installed last year. That’s it.

When Kansas City businesswoman Cheryl Womack announced she would donate $2 million to build a new softball facility in November of 2002 — under the previous administration, incidentally — everyone thought that would be enough money to build a complete stadium.

Unfortunately, providing adequate drainage for the new facility cost more than expected. Thus Arrocha Ballpark opened in March of 2004 with no permanent seats, rest rooms or concessions. And no press box. But even a half-built facility was better than Jayhawk Field, the rudimentary high school-ish KU softball home since 1985.

Now here it is five years later and, except for the lights installed last spring, Arrocha Ballpark looks the same as it did the day it opened. Arrocha still has portable seats, rest rooms and concessions. And a make-shift press box under a tent.

Needless to say, the KU softball team doesn’t have its own indoor batting practice area or fancy clubhouse, either.

KU’s soccer program also could use an upgrade, but it’s difficult to make gender equity facility comparisons when Kansas does not field a men’s varsity soccer team.

Also included in this proposed Olympic Village is a track facility which, as far as I’m concerned, should be at the bottom of the list as long as Hershberger Track in Memorial Stadium remains a viable option, even if it is one of the few ovals in a BCS school’s football facility.

Still, softball should be the priority. Softball has been neglected for too long and not just by previous administrations.