Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mayer: Kansas athletics keeps leaking


Don't be surprised if you see a Netherlandish guy looking like an escapee from a can of Dutch Boy Paints entering Allen Fieldhouse to apply for a job. You know, the floppy Hans Brinker hat, the butcher boy collar, the baggy pants, wooden shoes and, ideally, a big fat thumb. Too hot for ice skates.

The old dike at Kansas University just keeps leaking during this less-than-idyllic summer. Athletic-department-oriented officials and their associates will need all the help they can get to stop the bleeding. Even a thumb as big as that on the boxing-glove-shaped state of Michigan might not be huge enough.

Lew Perkins and his people have run into one hassle after another in their two years on the job, and he may really earn that $500,000-plus annual package before it's all said and done. There's also that $1.3 million bonus due after five years. Took legal action for KU to finally make that public. Why no speedy self-report on that? Wonder what private conversations Lew's been having with Chancellor Robert Hemenway, whose desk is where the buck stops.

You can recite your own litany of problems that have emanated from the fieldhouse in the past two years. The initial biggie was about the basketball ticket situation and the obvious evidence that the wealthiest fans would wind up commanding the best seats - regardless of longevity, loyalty and such. Then there were the replacements of a number of experienced and loyal staff members with people of Perkins's personal choice. That didn't sit well with some who appreciated the warmth, humanity and outreach the departees provided. The higher-paid new hires from "outside" haven't seemed to fit into the community so affably.

It wasn't too long before a growing chill could be sensed by a lot of veteran visitors to the athletics venues. I'll never have the space to chronicle all the personal stories of perceived rejection and disenchantment. But KU public relations have taken an acid bath - and that $90,000 logo "creation" caper and the decision to adopt a mandatory, corporate-type school color surely didn't detoxify things.

Then they've been orchestrating the football ticket situation in a way that does not please a number of patrons, who wonder why there's so much priority seating being established when traditional audiences are not exactly seam-busting. "Hell, wait until we win more than we lose to get elite," blurted one longtime fan who "ain't gonna fool with them anymore."

Basketball, the centerpiece of KU's bid for athletic glory, tailed off at the end, and there was that embarrassing NCAA Tourney loss to Bucknell by a team that didn't look like it was much in the mood to advance. The natives already were restless. Later on came the J.R. Giddens fiasco at the Moon Bar. Enough of the hashing and re-hashing of this debacle. Coach Bill Self and J.R. agreed the latter would be better off changing scenery, so thank God and Greyhound he's gone. Hope J.R. heals fast and well and has a decent life, just not on our nickel. Fortunately, friendly Bill Self is a major port in the ongoing storm.

Some calm had been restored to the pond for a short while until Hemenway and Perkins decided to self-report a batch of irregularities they said Perkins inherited and which were detailed by interim AD Drue Jennings as he left. Jennings filled in for Al Bohl and managed to hire Self as coach following Roy Williams's el vamooso. A solid businessman with a penchant for detail and organization, Drue discovered some blivvies during and before the Bohl tenure.

How come the new folks waited so long to try to come off as holier-than-thou? It seemed to some that the New Order was trying to get itself off the hook and drive home that they're interested in canonization as honest, hard-working, noble citizens of Kansas. Besmirched in one way or other in the process were such notables as Mark Mangino, Roy Williams, Marian Washington, Lynette Woodard, Joan Edwards, Bernie Morgan and Dana Anderson. I cringed at that exam-cheating for football guys, but capital punishment? Some schools could get a Neanderthal Man eligible. And the NCAA's "student-athlete for life" travesty is as ridiculous as a William Hung vocal rendition.

Nobody's perfect, but I'll sure throw my hat into the same ring with people of the Williams-Anderson-Morgan-Edwards caliber when I go, hat in hand, for St. Peter's approval. Hell's bells! The vast majority of those "violations" by the Jayhawks and their spawn were nickel and dime. Anyone who knows anything about big-time college sports will tell you, right off, that Kansas is a rank amateur when it comes to skirting the rules and dealing under the table. And the NCAA looks sillier by the day.

It looked for all the world like KU was traitorizing some of the best people it's had on its roster just to make the Perkins regime look good. The New Suits will have enough trouble engendering the old depth of loyalty and dedication, which they've damaged badly, without turning on their own, cannibalizing the old and eating the young. Is nothing sacred, everything for sale?

I guess the intentions were good (enough to pave the road to hell), but the overall effect of the "self-report" made KU look even more cold-blooded and calculating than some already figured it was becoming.

Boy, did this caper sour a lot of Kansas loyalists! I got the e-mail and phone calls to prove it. One of the best missives came from Bill Rinehart, a KU football running back and place-kicker in the late 1940s. Coach J.V. Sikes nicknamed him "Toe."

The Toe recalled an old book by Irving Tressler titled "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," a takeoff on Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Rinehart, now a Texan, wonders if the current KU hierarchy is trying to update a sequel on the Tressler jibe. "Off to a good start," he chuckled, if you can chuckle on e-mail. I might also offer for Perkins some of Sikes's cornpone advice that J.V. would unleash on a player not giving his best: "Y'all gotta earn yo keep, boy!"

I've long had this vision of a humongous water storage tank into which Kansas University people have been pouring and storing love, devotion, loyalty, dedication, support, all the values of the graces, for nearly 140 years. That standing pool was glorious to see and heartwarming to be a part of.

But it seems there was a spigot on the tank. Some new people who didn't realize they had a genie in a jug with the stopper in their hands came in and for some reason opened the tap. The elixir began to drain out onto hard, hostile soil, like water might seep through a leak in the dike over around Amsterdam.

Somebody, somehow, needs to hurry back to that faucet, or leak, cut it off and start doing things that begin to restore and replenish that incomparable tankful of good will that once existed.

Maybe a Dutch Boy Paints fugitive can't handle the job, but some highly paid mastermind sure as hell needs to start thinking seriously about it.


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