Kevin Haskin: Total upgrade for KU football also requires makeover on the field

Lead gift of $50 million from Booth provides lift for ambitious fundraising effort

An artist rendering, released Friday by the University of Kansas, shows plans for Memorial Stadium following a five-year renovation set to begin this offseason. The renovation is part of a $350 million campaign called “Raise the Chant” which includes construction of a new 3,000-seat arena for volleyball and upgrades to baseball stadium Hoglund Ballpark. (Submitted/KU athletics)

LAWRENCE — Kansas launched a campaign Friday designed to empower its football future, but did so while standing firm in its support for what feels like a moribund operation.

 

Efforts to position the Jayhawks for sustainability within the Power Five structure of major conferences will continue to be directed by David Beaty, who has one victory against a Bowl Subdivision opponent, and Sheahon Zenger, the athletic director who saw fit to hire the Jayhawks’ third-year coach.

Doesn’t sound like an easy sell.

Particularly with the Jayhawks off to a 1-2 start. Particularly after consecutive losses against MAC opponents before the start of Big 12 play Saturday against West Virginia. Particularly when the target amount for the fundraising endeavor, labeled Raise The Chant, was established at a hefty $350 million.

Agreeing to something that expensive is bold. Yet Douglas Girod, the new KU chancellor, doubled down with effusive praise for Zenger and Beaty.

“(Zenger) is certainly a man of vision and integrity,’’ said Girod, “and I know is a Jayhawk to the core, and really has picked the right guy in coach Beaty to lead us. We’re on a great path.’’

A sizeable down payment for the project offers support — literally and figuratively — for the trust Girod has placed in KU’s current football leadership.

During a dinner Friday evening with some of KU’s top benefactors, the largest pledge in the history of Kansas athletics, $50 million, was provided by David Booth.

That mega-gift should inspire other big cigars to commit to the project. In fact, invaluable contributors such as Stu Horejsi and Dana Anderson have stepped up too, though KU administrators said ongoing discussions prohibit them from disclosing a level the campaign has reached thus far.

A $10 million gift from Horejsi will enable KU to construct a new 3,000-seat volleyball arena. The Raise The Chant project also incorporates renovations to Allen Fieldhouse and to the Jayhawks’ baseball facilities.

Make no mistake, though, the main thrust is to improve a sport — football — where the chant is often stifled.

The ambitious makeover will begin with the construction of an indoor facility, something only Kansas lacks among Big 12 members. That project will be followed with modernization of a structure that has been standing for almost a century, Memorial Stadium.

“The gratitude is to the generations before us,’’ said Zenger, “when you think they built this in the 1920s and Allen Fieldhouse in the 1950s, and we’ve been able to get this far by just tweaking facilities. … But it’s our responsibility for our generation to step up and do what they did decades ago.’’

Another responsibility is to keep Kansas viable as a Power Five member.

The future of the Big 12 — based on reports Friday, Bob Bowlsby will remain as commissioner into 2025, through the end of the next media rights discussions — always seems tenuous.

Virtually anything, be it a College Football Playoff slight, a derisive comment or the decision to table expansion, is often viewed as another misstep for the conference.

KU’s place in the Power Five structure was the very first remark Girod made when addressing the media on Friday.

“The importance of a national presence that gives us as a university and being front and center on TV on game days is just the best advertising we can have for the University of Kansas,’’ said the chancellor.

“It’s very important for us, for our student recruitment, it’s very important to us for our alumni engagement and loyalty.’’

Putting a winning product inside Memorial Stadium, though, is an important piece to the $350 million transformation Kansas will attempt to pull off.

In the end, more people will personally watch KU football and financially commit to it if alterations are also made to the Jayhawks’ win-loss record.

When asked if the fundraising effort or a football turnaround was more daunting, Zenger said: “They’re equal. You don’t have one without the other. Programs I’ve been associated in the past with rebuilds, you had to show the commitment to attract a young man and the people to commit alongside.’’

A commitment has been given to Zenger and Beaty.

“We started this rebuild in a pretty big hole,’’ said Girod, who referenced projects he was involved in at the KU Medical Center before adding, “you’ve got to set a plan, set a course, you’ve got to stick with it, you’ve got to give it time to work. And it’s not easy and it’s never a straight line. … Over time, we’ve got to show that we mean it, and this (fundraising project) is a big part of showing that we mean it.’’

That might be as comforting to Beaty as hearing the KU brass believes in his passionate approach. And, as comforting to Zenger as hearing Booth submit a lead gift of $50 million.

A significant price tag has been placed on facilitating KU football, but an absolute upgrade also requires significant improvement on the field.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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