Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Opinion: Track title sets tone for other KU sports


When Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger arrived at KU in 2011, he took over an athletic department in desperate need of a makeover.

Ticket scandals, federal indictments, controversial coaching resignations and fights between the men’s basketball and football teams, all during an 18-month period that preceded him, made national news and put a sour spin on a place Zenger had always believed was better than Disney World.

All of that nonsense made the dream job one that required a rolling up of one’s sleeves as opposed to turning up one’s nose, and Zenger, a native Kansan and blue-collar athletic boss at Illinois State, was more than willing to oblige.

From the moment he arrived, Zenger emphasized that KU’s coaches and athletes would correct the things that they could control. They would be humble. They would work hard. They would compete harder. And they would not be satisfied until they began making phone calls to order new banners.

During his first two-and-a-half years in town, perhaps no team better illustrated both how this was possible and what could happen than the women’s track and field team that was crowned the 2013 NCAA outdoor champions last weekend in Eugene, Ore.

Just a few months ago, the very same team finished second at the national indoor meet. For many programs, such a feat would have been enough of a reason to spend the next 12 months celebrating. For this program, second simply wasn’t good enough. Similarly, after making a big deal of its run to the Sweet 16 in 2012, the KU women’s basketball team followed it up with another Sweet 16 appearance in 2013. It wasn’t a title. But it was progress. And it was exactly the kind of movement Zenger both expected and demanded upon taking over as KU’s AD.

For the track and field athletes and coaches who made it happen, winning the 11th national title in KU history was the product of years of hard work, heavy dreams and career performances. For Zenger, it represented the beginning of what he believed was possible all along.

“At Kansas, you know that you’re going to be in the hunt for these national championships,” Zenger said. “That’s one of the reasons you come to a place like this. I credit coach (Stanley) Redwine, his staff and all of the young women on that team who had been working toward this for years. What this championship does is it sets the tone to show all of our other sports what is possible at the University of Kansas, and not just for the men’s basketball team.”

Winning one national track title does not serve as a magic potion to cure all that ails the KU athletic department. Coaches have been fired, there are other programs, coaches and athletes who are underachieving, and there are areas — most notably the money-making monster that football could become — where major work still is needed. Zenger knows this. And he uses it to sharpen KU’s edge.

“This is a great accomplishment, and I want those girls to celebrate this and remember it for the rest of their lives,” he said of the track team’s national title. “But, as a department, we’re not there yet.”

And whether the Jayhawks get there 11 more times under Zenger or not at all, the methodology won’t change. One day. One practice. One game. When it all adds up to something like they experienced last weekend in Oregon, then they’ll celebrate. Then and only then.


MinnesotaJay 4 years, 11 months ago

From Perkins' Athletic Department to Zenger's feels like a transition from sleazy to scintillating.

Clarence Haynes 4 years, 11 months ago

Now if only ljw had a track and field section in its kusports app!

RoyalsChiefsJayhawksSportingKC 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree... they need a track and field section on the KUsports app. They even have cross country but no track and field. What gives?

BringBackMark 4 years, 11 months ago

It seems like Zenger is getting a little more praise here than he deserves. Yes, the NCAA outdoor championship is wonderful and congratulations to coach Redwine and those young women that made it happen. The building blocks for this were in place long before Zenger took over as AD. Now let's look at the other sports.......

Bonnie continues to underachieve with women's basketball. This has been a problem ever since Lew brought her in. Yes, back to back sweet 16 appearances looks good but this past years team should've accomplished more. Look for a major drop off next year.

Softball continues to improve from recruiting and hard work. The problem is a pathetic non-conference schedule that requires a top two or three finish in the Big 12 to make the NCAA tournament. Seems like scheduling would be partly controlled by the AD.

Baseball....ditto softball. Biggest problem here is that they lost to a bunch of cupcakes.

Then there's football. I surmise that in two years Mr. Zenger will be seen as having flubbed his first big hire. I certainly hope I'm wrong and we're all dancing in the streets competing for a Big 12 championship. One thing's for sure, the juco experiment will make this hire easy to assess after 3 years.

Quite honestly there doesn't seem to be much out of Mr. Zenger publicly. Ticket prices and athletic budgets continue to increase as expected. I think a little more visibility would be good.

Waylon Cook 4 years, 11 months ago

As far as softball goes KU got screwed! KU played OU tuffer in the next to last weekend of the season tuffer than anyone in the NCAA tourney including the CWS! Beat them once and OU only lost 4 times all year! Yes we lost to some teams but beat the ACC champ 2x in tourneys. Megan has brought in talent to start competing against anyone. KK is going to get them to the CWS in the next 3 seasons just wait.

Bonnie no way gets a contract extension and if Zenger doesn't renew she walks away without us owing her a dime(granted she made alot of coin while at KU).

Price..........I am pretty sure we will never get rid of him. He obviously has pics of someone naked in KU AD....

Phoghorn 4 years, 11 months ago

For better or for worse, Mark is not coming back. It is time to support Coach Weis.

Cody Stumma 4 years, 11 months ago

If anything, the Women's team will make the Tournament next year with the talent they brought in. Those twins are something else, and we should expect to see Kansas in the hunt for a Big 12 Championship and a deep run from Bonnie. No excuses this year. Baylor can't crush everybody with Griner anymore. Buck up or shut up Bonnie.

Brad Hall 4 years, 11 months ago

I wonder what the 11 national championships are in? 5 in men's basketball. 1 in women's track. What are the other 5? Men's track perhaps.

4 years, 11 months ago

The 11 national championships Matt is referring to are in track, 10 in men's and one in women's.

4 years, 11 months ago

I see what others are reading from Wikipedia, however I read the following from a previous story here:

“Kansas won with 60 points, holding off Texas A&M (44 points) and Oregon (43) for the school’s 11th national track title and first since the KU men won the 1970 Outdoor.”

Dirk Medema 4 years, 11 months ago

The previous story had an incorrect statement.

Robert Brown 4 years, 11 months ago

Only three in basketball. The Helms championships do not count. I think the other seven are track and cross country related from the 50s and 60s.

Men's Cross Country 1953 Men's Indoor Track 1966 – 1969 – 1970 Men's Outdoor Track 1959 – 1960 – 1970

Ron Prichard 4 years, 11 months ago

You are actually incorrect. The Helm's Championships most certainly do count as National Championships. They are no different than the BCS Championships in football today. Both are/were independent bodies that bestow(ed) national titles. However, the Helm's titles would not count as an NCAA Championship. I think the same is true of the BCS champions, unless the NCAA has adopted the BCS as it's official national champion.

So, KU has 5 basketball National Championships, but only 3 basketball NCAA Championships.

rockchalk_dpu 4 years, 11 months ago

You are right that the BCS Championships are not counted as NCAA titles. When you visit the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indy, the atrium has banners from each team sport that a champion was awarded. They have D2 and D3 banners for their respective winners, but no D1 banner.

Ron Prichard 4 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the clarification rockchalk. I wasn't sure. I'm surprised the NCAA doesn't have some sort of official award for a mythical D1 football NC.

Robert Brown 4 years, 11 months ago

It is hard to takes seriously a championship awarded decades after the fact. Clearly, in this article when the Helms championship was not considered significant enough to be counted.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 11 months ago

It's easy to take them seriously when you listen to the university leaders - regardless of what a journo says.

Sam Constance 4 years, 11 months ago


The Helms Championships are most certainly different than the BCS titles of modern football.

1) The Helms titles were assigned retroactively, sometimes 30 years after the actual year for which the title was being awarded.

2) The Helms titles were assigned without the benefit of the 24 hour news cycle and internet and readily available details about each and every game and how they played out.

3) The Helms titles existed in a world where the sport in question was FAR more regionalized than modern-day football. You didn't have the benefit of common opponents outside a geographic region the way you do in today's game.

4) The Helms titles aren't even the only "committee" to do a retroactive awarding of "titles". There is another similar ranking, the Primo-Porretta Poll, that doesn't assign the same champs as Helms. Compare that to today, where there is essentially one agreed-upon "authority" when it comes to the football title.

Yes, there are some similarities in that the titles are awarded by a vote/decision rather than being played out in an elimination style tournament, but that is where the similarities end.

We look foolish anytime a KU fan claims that Kansas has 5 men's basketball titles. I wish people would stop.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 11 months ago

"Compare that to today, where there is essentially one agreed-upon "authority" when it comes to the football title."

Try comparing it to the 70's, 80's, and 90's when there were multiple occasions with multiple champions, and even undefeated teams that weren't recognized at all.

KGphoto 4 years, 11 months ago

Mythical national championships is something that could be argued forever. I will say this though, if you don’t count mythical championships, then there were no national football champions prior to the BCS in 1998. Michigan and Notre Dame are gonna be pissed, because that means they’ve never won a title. Alabama has only won 3. Not 15.

You could argue that “Consensus” national champs began as early as 1950, but even then it’s only a voting system. So are you really a champ?

Just sayin’. Helms was really the only recognized foundation until the tournament era began. So if you want to erase the first 40 years of college basketball that’s your prerogative. Personally I have no problem claiming the Helms titles.

Sam Constance 4 years, 11 months ago

The Helms Foundation didn't EXIST until the tournament began.

You can acknowledge the first 40 years of college basketball without being disingenuous about the meaning of a "title" that was awarded to teams 40 years after the season for which they were given the title.

You can note that KU has 2 Helms Titles, which means that, in at least one person's expert opinion, KU was one of the best teams of the year, without falsely equating the Helms Titles to be equivalent to modern day NCAA titles.

I agree that the "Consensus" champs of college football were problematic in that they were decided by vote, but that system was still more consensus than the Helms titles, and was done in real-time, rather than 4 decades after the fact.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 11 months ago

Only 3 NCAA BB Championships, but you have not been paying attention if you are not aware of national championships prior to the formation of the NCAA. You may not agree with history, but it is what it is.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 11 months ago

You might not claim national championships prior to the formation of the NCAA, but that doesn't change that they were awarded and are recognized by others and leaders of our school. This is consistent with others schools that won Helms NC - whether you like it or not.

Sam Constance 4 years, 11 months ago

We DO NOT have 5 national championships in men's basketball.

The Helms Titles are a great little piece of history, but if you know anything about them, listing them in the same breath (or with the same sized banners) as the 3 NCAA Tournament titles is silly.

There is a solid case to be made that KU wasn't even the most deserving team in one of it's two Helms Title years, as well as the case that they deserved it more than another team in one of the years they didn't win it.

But at the end of the day, the problem is that the titles were "assigned" retroactively, by a committee that had limited, at best, access to the already sparse recaps and box scores of the early years of basketball. And if you do a little research, it becomes pretty clear that the "committee" was a committee of one.

Ron Prichard 4 years, 11 months ago

I'll give you the retroactive point, but that aside, the BCS title is nothing more than a vote by a committee to see who plays in the BCS game. On multiple occasions, undefeated teams have been left out of that game based on a vote from a "committee." Whatever method was used to confer a national title in a given year, in whatever sport, that team is recognized as a national champion. Be it double elimination pool play in baseball that I don't even pretend to understand, a popular vote among pollsters and coaches in football (with other computer data figured in) or a tournament in basketball now, the winning team is recognized as a national champion. Just because you disagree with the method of recognition or someone could argue that recognition, doesn't mean that the recognition isn't valid.

If you think KU is the only school to recognize the Helms titles and looks silly for doing so, you are wrong. The following statement was taken from the North Carolina Basketball Yearbook for 2012-2013:

Carolina has won six national championships, including five NCAA Tournament titles and the 1924 Helms Foundation national championship. The Tar Heels won the NCAA Tournament in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009.

Sam Constance 4 years, 11 months ago

First off, the BCS system is ridiculous. The fact that it is so ridiculous should not be used as a rationalization for equating NCAA titles with Helms titles.

But more to the point in your post is this passage:

"whatever method was used to confer a national title in a given year, in whatever sport, that team is recognized as a national champion"

I agree with that statement, because it indicates that assigning a national champion is not something that can be done by looking back at the past and "deciding" who was the best. It needs to be something that is understood at the time of the competition that goes to determining that champion--the only defense of the BCS is that everyone knows what they are playing for and how the system works while they are competing. Every team vying for that championship knows that only part of it is within their control.

This is why the retroactive point is so important. The fact that the Helms titles were retroactively assigned without any kind of official NCAA endorsement makes it even worse. I've read a great deal on this, and the reason I bring up the Premo-Porretta Poll is because it's an example that when you retroactively and unofficially award something like a national title, especially in the fragmented field of early 1900s college basketball, there will be disagreement on what matters and by how much. A local blogger (and KU alum) that I used to read frequently once did a three installment look at the Helms Titles and whether or not they were 1) right, 2) actually the work of a committee, and 3) the information they used to arrive at their answers and it became clear quite quickly that to award something like this 40 years after the fact, you have to do a great deal of assumption and inference. He ended up discovering that a solid case could be made that Missouri, not Kansas, deserved the 1922 Helms Title based on the available information from that year. Kansas and Missouri gave each other their only losses that year, but I believe that Missouri dominated Kansas in Lawrence, whereas Kansas squeaked out a victory in Columbia.

I realize that UNC claims their Helms title as well. But the fact that they do it doesn't make it right or sensible. It's misleading to use the moniker "National Championships" to describe both NCAA titles and Helms titles. By all means recognize that KU was a big enough heavyweight in the fledgling days of college basketball and therefore deserves to mention the Helms titles as part of our long and interesting history. But claiming they are equal is simply not true.

Ross Cargo 4 years, 11 months ago

3 in men's basketball, 3 in men's indoor track, 3 in men's outdoor track, 1 in men's cross country and now 1 for the ladies. Two of the national titles we claim in bb are not NCAA titles.

Track and field and cross country, have given us 8 NCAA titles! Perhaps we should rip out that crappy stadium from around the track and rebuild it out in bumf@&k Kansas. Then we could fix up the track only facility which has produced national titles, dozens of conference championships and hundreds of All Americans at the foot of Campanile. Then when the hundreds of prospective students, the collegiate and pro athletes that come in for the Kansas relays can compete on campus.

Dale Stringer 4 years, 11 months ago

Ditto to a point. The parking (what little of it there is) and acces at Memorial is better suited for track and field. Building a new football stadium on a main road be more of a benefit. But it would be harder to walk to Mass St after the games.

crimsonorblue22 4 years, 11 months ago

Before Zenger gets all the credit for the new track, let's see how top-notch it is. Certainly seems this is solely to benefit fb. Athletes need to be close to campus.

Ron Prichard 4 years, 11 months ago

If I'm not mistaken, there are 10 in men's track/cross country and 1 for the women for 11 NC's in track. I think that is all the article is referring to. There are also 5 NC's in basketball (3 NCAA Titles). So, the total would either be 14 or 16 depending on how you break it down. I am not sure if there are any NC's in other sports (golf, volleyball, rowing, swimming, tennis, etc.).

Matt Tait 4 years, 11 months ago

KU is calling it 11 national titles and that refers to those championships handed out by the NCAA...

3 in men's hoops
3 in men's indoor track
3 in men's outdoor track
1 in men's cross country
1 in women's outdoor track

Ron Prichard 4 years, 11 months ago

Matt, thanks for the clarification. Does KU have any NC's in sports other than men's basketball (the two Helm's titles) that are not considered NCAA titles? The number we originally heard for men's track was 10 national titles. Are some of those not NCAA titles?

Displayhawk 4 years, 11 months ago

You're high rocky! .... and I don't mean from the altitude! How much money would the Kansas Relays bring in??? I would be willing to bet that it would be less than one football game against a non-conference opponent. Coach Weis is making strides forward with the football team, and Coach Redwine will have premier facilities to recruit with in a couple of years, so the future looks bright IMHO.

Andy Godwin 4 years, 11 months ago

Congratulations to the women's track team. It gave KU sports fans something to relish for 2013. The number of national championships over KU's history are not that impressive. From a National perspective, the revenue generating sports have been true underachievers. Although we indicate KU is a basketball school, only 3 NCAA championships in 74 years (1939 to 2013) are a disappointment given how many times in the Williams and now the Self era KU had the best team in the country and failed to win more than one NCAA tournament. Football will be difficult to turn into a perennial winner. I have been following for a lifetime and one can only hope that good things lie ahead. The goal each year is national championships, but I am afraid I will not be around to see that happen in football. The "other" sports are improving and Zenger has had a hand in changing the culture (and will follow in Perkin's footsteps to increase revenue). As a donor and lifelong KU sports fan you wish for much more. In reality KU sports fan should appreciate the effort student/athletes dedicate to KU and take pride in how they represent our alma mater. We should support all athletes equally, not just in two sports. They all make huge levels of commitment on and off the field of play.

Sam Constance 4 years, 11 months ago

"Although we indicate KU is a basketball school, only 3 NCAA championships in 74 years (1939 to 2013) are a disappointment"

Statements like this make us sound dangerously close to BBN. Keep in mind that before 1980, only one team from each conference got to participate in the tournament, meaning good teams that have, in the years since, shown the capability of winning it all wouldn't even be part of the field.

Also keep in mind that of the schools with more than three titles, only Duke, UNC and Kentucky have shown any consistent ability to win modern-era (post expansion to 64 teams) titles.

I'd say 11 national championships from one of TWO state schools residing in a state of 2.8 million people is pretty impressive.

Andy Godwin 4 years, 11 months ago

As stated, over the past 25 years (Williams and Self), KU basketball has achieved one national championship. That is a 4% success rate (1 of 25), which is the same rate as compared to the past 74 years (3 of 74 = 4.05%) even thought the rules to participate in the championships have changed. So KU's success of winning national basketball championships has not improved over the last 25 years. Furthermore, the size of the state relative to success in men's basketball makes little difference, since the majority of players who have suited up for Williams and Self are not home grown. Clearly that impacts football, but not teams that depend on fewer players and can afford (and be successful) to recruit nationally.

Jeff Coffman 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm not sure I see the connection between Zenger and the championships. I'm so far a fan of Zenger, but the jury is still out. And the foundation for these were a long time in the making.

The citations made are of Redwine and Bonnie. These are two coaches hired under the previous administration.

The lone hire mentioned in the article by Zenger so far has finished last in the conference and not too better overall - football. I know he has hired additional coaches, but the Golf coach is the one that come to mind.

It is interesting with the previous administration the AD worked to get KU in the Orange Bowl, I wonder how much Zenger did to get the Baseball team in the CWS. We beat a lot of teams that were in that tournament, had a good record, both in and out of conference.

Zenger I'll give credit for getting Jayhawk Park headed in the right direction, but he better keep his nose really close to that construction project, if he doesn't want a fraud case to pop out again.

Phoghorn 4 years, 11 months ago

Well said. As far as finishing last in the conference, I gave both Coach Gill and Coach Weis a pass in their first seasons. This year, I will take a critical look at KU Football.

One thing that can not be disputed is that the football team made some improvements toward the end of the season. We were actually competitive against UT and Tech. Yes, these are baby steps, but it is more than could be said for KU Football since that infamous 7 game slide in 2009.

Robert Brown 4 years, 11 months ago

But we got blown out to finish the season by Iowa State (at home) and West Virginia, both were closer to the bottom than to the top of the conference.

I could argue that in Gill's last year, we were competitive against Baylor with RG3 as QB, Iowa State and TT and we led Missouri at halftime. I am NOT saying we shouldn't have made a change, I just think it was a big gamble picking Weis.

LakeShawnee 4 years, 11 months ago

When you're KU Football, you probably have to take some gambles. Rightly or wrongly.

JayhawkFan1985 4 years, 11 months ago

Bring back the men's swimming and tennis programs!

Jeff Coffman 4 years, 11 months ago

You in one breath talk about time to build a program, then you say Zenger for the Jayhawk Park. Jayhawk Park was initiated during the previous administration, these things take a lot of time. Look how long it took to just design the building for the Rules of Basketball at KU.

Zenger's one hire that has a season under his belt is the football coach. I'm a fan of Weis, but let's not jump the gun. He only has won one game at KU and that was against a DII Opponent.

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