$300 million Memorial Stadium project about much more than KU's shiny new digs
Last week, while Kansas fans were speculating, dreaming and debating about what the $300 million announced renovation budget for Memorial Stadium could look like and include, Dennis Dodd of CBSsports.com had another thought.
Sure, Kansas fans everywhere would like to know what that money will be used for and how the project will look when completed.
Will Memorial Stadium receive a facelift or a complete overhaul? Are we talking about something like what happened at K-State with Bill Snyder Family Stadium or something like what happened at TCU, where they basically built the entire thing from scratch?
For what it’s worth, both are sharp, modern venues and either direction would go a long way toward improving the Kansas football experience.
But, as Dodd pointed out, there’s much, much more to the story here than the fact that all of that coin can deliver shiny new concession stands, an upgraded wireless experience and a much better looking stadium, inside and out, top to bottom.
There’s also the statement about what this kind of commitment means for the program and the university. And there’s no denying that it means a ton.
One of the more popular groans I’ve heard throughout the years about the Kansas football program is that athletic director Sheahon Zenger and his department are not committed to football. Those who know him and have been paying attention know that could not be farther from the truth. Suggesting otherwise is laughable.
But in the world we live in today, it’s dollars not determination that shows commitment, so all of that behind-the-scenes stuff and all of those hours of sleepless nights or endless meetings don’t mean nearly as much to the general public as the sound of a $300 million commitment to renovating the stadium.
Today you’ve got both, and now the real fun can begin.
While the public won’t know exactly what the plan is until blueprints are released by KU sometime in September, what is known today is that the Jayhawks are serious about positioning the program to be in as good of shape as possible for the near future and beyond.
The reason that’s so important, as Dodd points out, is something we’ve all heard for years now, so much so that it almost has become common knowledge for fans of all ages — it’s football that drives realignment and will shape the college athletics landscape of the future. Not having your shop in order in that area could be devastating.
Zenger knows this. He always has. And he’s spent hundreds of hours contemplating all of the things Kansas can do to get on the right track in the event that realignment rears its ugly head once more sometime in the near future.
While things have been calm and quiet at the Power 5 level for the past few years, those grant of rights agreements are eventually going to expire and, when they do, it’s anybody’s guess as to where things go from there. Better to be prepared well in advance than to be forced to scramble if/when it all goes down.
And so the Jayhawks are doing just that. Forget the $300 million stadium plans for a second. That’s big. Huge, in fact. And it will go a long way toward showing the world — read: television networks and Power 5 conferences — that KU is serious about football again.
But there have been plenty of smaller, less-talked-about signs that say the same thing along the way.
The first was hiring Beaty in the first place. In doing so, Zenger put an end to the idea of dishing out disproportionate salaries to football coaches taking the Jayhawks nowhere and provided the program with the foundation it needed for a true rebuild. As was said when Beaty was hired, the process was going to take time and patience would be important, but as Beaty and company head into Year 3, things definitely appear to be headed in a better direction.
The second came last year, when Zenger extended Beaty’s contract and doubled his salary. While that meant bumping his compensation from $800,000 to $1.6 million, numbers that pale in comparison to the $300 million renovation budget, it also meant that the Jayhawks were serious about providing this guy what he needs to keep the momentum moving.
Don't overlook Zenger's recent extension itself in this whole thing, too. It's much easier for an AD to ask for $300 million in donations if there's an indication that he's going to be around long enough to make sure the money is used the way donors are told it will be.
The third and most overlooked aspect of KU's commitment to football was to Beaty’s coaching staff. Rather than using money to make hires elsewhere in the department — needed or otherwise — Zenger set aside a significant amount of cash for Beaty to use on his staff. While a big chunk of that went to new offensive coordinator Doug Meachem — who, for what it’s worth, absolutely could be a difference-maker right away — it also allowed Beaty to bump up the salaries of several other assistant coaches, most notable of which was Tony Hull, whose ties to Louisiana have been an enormous part of KU’s recruiting success of late.
Those three things were all in place well before any kind of $300 million stadium announcement saw the light of day. And together, those moves, along with a handful of others, (most notably the million-dollar renovation of the football locker room) should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous talk about KU and Zenger not being committed to the football program.
They are. It’s as clear as can be. And, if Dodd is right and realignment does hit hard again in the next 5-8 years, it’s moves like these that could keep Kansas — and, therefore, it’s blue blood basketball program — relevant among the rest of the power players in college athletics.