How the upcoming track removal at Memorial Stadium could make fans feel closer to the action on Saturdays

Kansas fans wave the wheat following a James Sims touchdown against West Virginia during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas fans wave the wheat following a James Sims touchdown against West Virginia during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The prevailing thought with most KU football fans seems to be that the biggest reason the track needed to come out of Memorial Stadium was because the seats are too far away from the action.

While the idea of lowering the field and adding seats closer to the sideline remains very possible, such a step won't come for at least a couple of years.

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger told me last week that he's still got the lowering the field option on his radar. But while architects are working up preliminary plans for a major renovation at Memorial Stadium down the road — so KU can be ready to strike when the money and momentum (perhaps in the opposite order) are in hand — nothing about the bigger project is set in stone at this point. Zenger and his staff continue to kick around ideas, examine other venues and talk to professionals about what's possible, what's not and how much all of their different ideas would cost.

We'll get to that in time. But for now, the track's coming out and it's happening tomorrow.

If you ask me, that's going to do a lot more for Memorial Stadium than I think most people may realize. Here's why.

What we've had at Memorial Stadium for the past several decades, in my opinion, is a bit of an optical illusion. Because of the different color of the track, the lines that divide the lanes within it and the extra layer of separation that can be seen from the stands, the seats feel and appear to be farther from the field than they actually are.

Because the issue of getting rid of the track has been kicked around for several years now, I've often thought about it while visiting other stadiums. I can't recall exactly what the distances are at each venue I've been to but I can assure you that the distance between the stands and the sideline at Memorial Stadium is in the same ballpark as many of those other stadiums.

Take K-State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium for example. The last time I was over there to cover a game, I paced it off. Again, I don't recall exactly what the distance was but I remember it being in the 48-50-foot range. If my steps were accurate, that would actually put the seats at K-State farther away from the field than what KU fans will enjoy during the upcoming season, when the 37 feet of turf that replace the track and 10 feet of drainage asphalt will create a distance of 47 feet from the sideline to the stands.

Only time will tell if this optical illusion really existed or if the vantage point changes dramatically (or even just a little) after the removal of the track is complete.

But here's guessing that in addition to looking much nicer and much more like a big-time college football venue, the fans in the stands also will feel like they're closer to the action after this project is complete six weeks from now without KU Athletics having to move so much as a single bolt in the Memorial Stadium bleachers.

What they do from here is anyone's guess, but I'm in total agreement with Zenger and KU coach Charlie Weis that this is a fantastic first step in remaking an old stadium in a fabulous setting.

Kansas University's plan to remove the track at Memorial Stadium, left, is shown in the rendering at right. The track will be replaced by turf that will extend 37 feet from the sideline, leaving just 10 feet of black “drainage asphalt” between the turf and the stands. In addition, a decorative fence will replace the chain-link fence on the south end of the stadium.

Kansas University's plan to remove the track at Memorial Stadium, left, is shown in the rendering at right. The track will be replaced by turf that will extend 37 feet from the sideline, leaving just 10 feet of black “drainage asphalt” between the turf and the stands. In addition, a decorative fence will replace the chain-link fence on the south end of the stadium.


Andy Tweedy 1 year, 1 month ago

Matt, When you first reported this, there was a side by side pic in the article, which I think illustrated your point pretty well. In fact, when I saw that, I quickly came to the conclusion that maybe the field didn't need to be lowered. I think you should have included that pic in this article.

Andy Tweedy 1 year, 1 month ago

That is some first class customer service right there!

Jay Beakum 1 year, 1 month ago

Any idea what the decorative wall/fence will look like, behind the scoreboard?

Matt Tait 1 year, 1 month ago

It won't be a wrought iron fence, but it'll look a little like that. Black, decorative, etc. Should look sharp.

Aaron Paisley 1 year, 1 month ago

I know a lot of people think these renovations will ultimately make the stadium louder when at capacity, but I see two big issues the hurt the noise level at Memorial Stadium other than the lack of people. One is that the stadium has an open end so noise isn't trapped in the stadium. And two is that the stadium is only a single tier without much slope compared to multi-level stadiums. Unless the stadium is razed and rebuilt as a multi-tiered stadium along with closing in the south end of the stadium, the noise factor at Memorial is never going to be a significant advantage for KU just simply because of the way the stadium is set up as a single tiered horseshoe design.

Brad Farha 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you Matt. Any chance we can get photos of the work in progress once it's started?

Michael Maris 1 year, 1 month ago

In the end, the players safety is the ultimate reason for the current changes.

However, I would like to see a multi-tiered stadium (as well). I believe this would assist in keeping what crowd noise in. Plus, there could be new Suites built for the Donors.

I understand the love of the long time fan base to keep the south end open for the graduation ceremonies. But, I do believe that a nice big Jumbo-Tron could be placed and used to show the graduates as they are marching down the hill towards the Stadium for their graduation ceremonies (as well).

As has been mentioned before by many who have posted on this site, Recruits want to see Commitment (not apathy). Commitment to Stadium Improvements (Facility wide) would show all targeted recruits that Kansas is committed to Football (and not just basketball alone).

Razing the entire Stadium (to construct a new one) would probably entail a lot more cost than that the cost of TCF Bank Stadium cost the U. of Minnesota (it cost $303.3 million to build). I'm sure that the Minnesota Vikings are going to pay the U. of Minnesota pretty handsomely for the use of TCF Bank Stadium for the next 2 seasons (as the Vikings are waiting for their new stadium to be erected.

Just my thoughts is all.

Mike Barnhart 1 year, 1 month ago

The noise factor in football has become over-rated. Opponents have been winning for years at the "Big House." Even Notre Dame Stadium and Texas Memorial Stadium have seen plenty of home losses in recent years.

I believe that the aesthetics of Memorial Stadium are the biggest problem. The track was a embarrassing (good riddance.) All we need to do is move the field 15 yards to the north and put up 15 rows of portable bleachers where the barcaloungers used to be. Looks good to me!

Brett McCabe 1 year, 1 month ago

Finally, somebody gets it. I commented last year that the removal of the track wouldn't gain that much. Also, that the North Bowl is the "problem" that is most challenging to deal with.

Your simple solution is probably what Z is looking at right now. We don't need more capacity and probably won't need it for quite some time. Lowering the stadium will cost millions and won't get that much value in return.

I'm confident that some pretty creative architect have come up with some cool renovation ideas but, quite frankly, I think that the football program needs to start proving its worth. Plenty has even invested in the program, it's time for some results and then maybe some more investment.

Jay Beakum 1 year, 1 month ago

Everybody wants the program to start “proving it’s worth”. Obviously it’s easier said that done.

Moving the field to the north isn’t going to gain us any advantage.

Removing the track and replacing it with turf is aesthetically pleasing and is a smart move because stadium noise isn’t the problem. Aesthetics are our problem.

Our fan’s vantage point also isn’t the problem. The only thing Zenger should be thinking about in the next couple of years is creating an exciting new look, while maintaining the spirit of a war memorial.

More people watch these games on TV now, so it needs to look good for that. More people talk about the games on twitter now, so it needs to sound good for that.

Lowering the field, creating new seats. doing something dramatic to the overall look of the stadium. These are the things that will resonate. They will draw interest on twitter. They will pulse through instagram. They will have recruits, networks and potential power conferences at attention.

Jonathan Allison 1 year, 1 month ago

I like that idea, it's very simple. It gets the fans closer to the field in the north bowl, and it could possibly create nearly 1000 seats behind the south end zone.

The jumbo screen could be problematic, but the simple solution would be to take the one that they have and lift it to the height of the new bleachers. They could potentially even put up a few "mini screens" in front of the south bleachers so that the fans in that section have something to view when the action is on the opposite end of during breaks.

The other problem is that the way it's pictured first shows about 10 yards of turf between the corner of the end zone and the drainage asphalt. The way that you've modified it shows about 1 yd of turf between the corner of the end zone and the asphalt. So they may have to find a compromize on the final location of the field in the north bowl to keep players off of the asphalt when the action heads out the corner of the end zone.

David A. Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

The amount of fans depicted seems a bit passive aggressive, doesn't it?

Matt Tait 1 year, 1 month ago

Those aren't fans. Those are the seat-backs that people can rent that often just stay in the stands even when nothing is going on.

Fred Davis 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm not an acoustics or noise expert - if there is such a thing - but this much I know - you want to make Memorial Stadium louder? Put a winning team on the field. I was at KU during the Mark Mangino years and when we beat Nebraska at home - Jon Cornish busting up the middle for a 50+ yard run - that was as loud an environment I've ever been in. The stadium was packed, the crowd was jacked, it was a surreal KU football experience. Pack the stadium and put a good product on the field. Then you'll get your noise.

Lucas Town 1 year, 1 month ago

The distance from the sideline to the front row of the stands at Memorial is approx. 45 ft. That same measurement at Bill Snyder Family Stadium is approx. 47ft. So these are very similar in comparison. I agree the track needs to go, but lowering the field may not need to be done. I agree with Fred, I have been to some games where it has been very loud. Better the team, better the environment on game day.

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