A view to the Hill at twilight shows a different feel of the for-now conceptual remodel of Memorial Stadium. KU Athletics
A view to the Hill at twilight shows a different feel of the for-now conceptual remodel of Memorial Stadium. KU Athletics

Vahe Gregorian

KU’s costly vision comes with less obvious price: more pressure to produce

By Vahe Gregorian

vgregorian@kcstar.com

September 22, 2017 8:00 PM

LAWRENCE

Albeit a generation or so late by its own admission, Kansas is taking a momentous and much-needed step by cranking up a $350 million fundraising campaign focused primarily on administering aid to its sickly football program.

Maybe the timing seems awkward or even wasteful, considering current KU coach David Beaty is 3-24 on the job, the Jayhawks are lugging an FBS-record 42-game road losing streak and the program has won just four conference games in the previous seven seasons entering its Big 12 opener Saturday against West Virginia.

But unless Kansas is going to drop football or have the program relegated to a lower level, neither of which are actual possibilities, this is what it must do to revive any competitive ambitions it has in the sport.

It’s a “build it, they will come” concept, meant to prime the pump in terms of both recruiting and the game-day experience for fans, whom athletic director Sheahon Zenger said should expect a stadium that ultimately looks new while honoring the tradition of the original.

What Beaty called “one of the coolest days in the history of KU” … “instantly pushes us into a strong position when it comes to recruiting.”

It’s exciting stuff — enough so that it might represent a double-edged sword for Beaty.

Photo renderings of KU's Memorial Stadium, Allen Fieldhouse renovations

View the just-released renderings following Kansas Athletics' announcement of a $350 million fundraising project on Friday night. Renovations will take place at Memorial Stadium, Allen Fieldhouse, Horejsi Center and Hoglund Ballpark. (Photos courtesy of Kansas Athletics)

Jesse Newell The Kansas City Star

On one hand, it seems to be quite a generous gift for him even as his job status seems questionable at best. The costly facelift should indeed bolster recruiting, not to mention provide KU such newfangled assets as the indoor practice facility that everyone else in the Big 12 has.

If it doesn’t level the playing field, exactly, with the rest of the College Football Industrial Complex, at least it will leave it a lot less tilted and figures to give KU a chance at some athletes who wouldn’t even consider it before.

On the other hand, the campaign would seem to raise expectations and the ante for success — and the appeal and potential of the job for others if Beaty can’t coax some meaningful progress soon.

This ultimately is an investment in the program more than Beaty, who will have to translate it to results.

Not that Kansas is saying that or necessarily even focusing on that in the moment.

At a news conference announcing some details of the plan on Friday, chancellor Douglas Girod not surprisingly was emphatic in his support of Beaty.

And, for that matter, of Zenger, who has kept basketball coach Bill Self happy, presided over a number of improved teams and enhanced facilities but been unable to fix football yet through two hires.

Zenger “really has picked the right guy in Coach Beaty to lead us,” Girod said. “We’re on a great path. We’re really excited about where he’s taking us. He truly is an inspirational coach. Have full confidence … that we really do have the right team at the right time.

“We’ve just got to get you the right tools to get the job done.”

The sentiment was echoed in part of a statement by alumnus and donor David Booth, who has pledged $50 million to kick-start the campaign and says he believes in “where Coach Beaty’s program is headed.”

Asked why he believes in Beaty, Zenger said he could sum it up with one word: “authenticity.”

And Girod in part said “his vision, his integrity, his enthusiasm, his work ethic and his ability to just really excite players and inspire players.”

This is all important, Girod reminded, because of what it means to the school’s broader mission to reap the exposure and currency that comes with being part of the Big 12.

“Being front and center” on television, he said, “is the best advertising we can have for the University of Kansas.”

It’s also true, as they say in advertising, that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. And KU football has been nothing but that for years.

But with vast new resources will come greater responsibility to deliver.

So now, even as he’s given more to work with, the pressure is ratcheted up on Beaty, who in December was given an extension through 2021.

“We understand that it’s a process, not an event,” Beaty said. “Doesn’t happen overnight. We make no excuses for where we’re at. We make no excuses for what we took over.

“Because like I told you when I first got here, all we took over was a great opportunity. Period. And we’re making progress.”

It’s about to become a much better opportunity, and progress is going to have be more tangible soon — or KU will be forced to make another change to take proper advantage of it.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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