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