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Realignment Today: Want KU to end up in the Big Ten? Now's a good time to start acting like it belongs

A Memorial Stadium record of 51,821 fans attended the Kansas-Kansas State football game on Saturday in Lawrence.

A Memorial Stadium record of 51,821 fans attended the Kansas-Kansas State football game on Saturday in Lawrence. by thad-allender

As Kansas football’s first preseason camp under head coach Lance Leipold nears its end, the evaluation of this team remains a work in progress and is expected to continue right up to kickoff on Sept. 3.

But while Leipold and his staff still have plenty to sort out before the opener, would you believe that it’s the Kansas fans that could be the most important part of the 2021 season?

For years, you’ve heard folks from KU’s athletic department — players, coaches and administrators alike — plead with the Kansas fan base to come out and support the Jayhawks’ rebuilding football team.

And for years this program has not always deserved your support.

But it may be more important this year than ever before.

The reason? Conference realignment, of course.

If KU fans are content with decision makers in the Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC tuning in and thinking the Jayhawks have formally changed their school color to silver (the color of the empty bleachers), then they’ll likely continue to leave David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium half empty or worse this fall.

But if they’re interested in making a real statement that KU is and can be a relevant football school again, they’ll pack the place.

It’s as simple as that.

With Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC and sending the college sports world into its latest upheaval, athletic departments and conference officials across the country are anxiously awaiting what comes next.

For now, the eight remaining Big 12 schools are proceeding with the idea that loyalty and a goal of creating a revamped Big 12 Conference is a viable option.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

At the same time, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said he understands that those eight schools are likely to be exploring contingency plans, as well.

At Kansas, the belief held by many Jayhawk fans is that the school’s storied and proud basketball program would be a dream pick-up for any conference.

But realignment is and always has been about football. So the eyes from outside world will likely look past Allen Fieldhouse to what unfolds at the base of Campanile hill this fall.

Even if simply supporting Leipold and the program is not enough to get you out, there are other good reasons for KU fans to come out this fall.

A big one on that list is the opportunity to show and tell Oklahoma exactly how you feel about their decision to leave the conference.

The Sooners are going to get a lot of that this season — and maybe a few bad whistles, too — and KU fans will be missing out big time if they let the point spread of that Oct. 23 contest keep them from letting OU hear it.

When was the last time the Sooners came to Lawrence and experienced a hostile environment? It’s been a minute. Maybe it’ll help.

Besides, KU plays at Texas this season (on Nov. 13), so if the 2021 season winds up being the last go around in the Big 12 for those two football powerhouses, this could be your only chance to say thanks for everything and wish them well. Eye roll.

The rest of the reasons to show up this fall are all about supporting Leipold, new athletic director Travis Goff, the KU players and the program and culture they’re trying to build.

That reason has been in place every year, but there’s more at stake this time around. People are watching. It's not that game attendance will play any real role in any realignment negotiations, more that the optics of looking like a university that gives a damn about football could help and that continuing to show the opposite might hurt.

If KU fans want their basketball program to do battle with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois in the Big Ten or want to do their part to help ensure that KU remains in a power conference, their showing at football games this fall could play a part in making that happen.

It’s show-up-now-or-stay-quiet-later time for Kansas fans.

Comments

Brad Barker

Would be great if Memorial Stadium offered a section reserved for fully vaccinated fans. That would make the decision to use my season tickets and attend in person much easier.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Matt Tait

This is a great thought, Brad, and one I did not fully consider while writing this.

I asked again today and I have not yet heard about any attendance restrictions for KU football this fall. And I can definitely see how the current state of the pandemic would factor into anyone's decision.

Here's hoping the numbers start looking better again, making it an easy call for everybody!

1 year, 3 months ago

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Dale Rogers

I think that is a great idea! And require proof of vaccination to sit in that section.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Robert Lofthouse

Give them their own entrance, concession area, restrooms and special parking too! Rope it off from the rest of the fans and post guards to make sure no-one crosses the line. /sic/ TV highlights will be more enjoyable.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Jeff Coffman

If you are fully vaccinated are you worried if someone else is not vaccinated?

In addition, and not to be too blunt, but at KU there will be plenty of space to socially distance.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Grady Millikan

You're outside and won't be that close to people even if the stadium is half full. Just go to the game and support the program so we don't get left behind.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Micky Baker

Getting the vaccination does not prevent you from getting COVID19, but it lessens the severity of the symptoms. It would not matter if there is a section for just vaccinated people if the worry is about not getting it. You will still be exposed to it getting there and getting back home.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Dale Rogers

Wish there were some way to count those of us watching on espn+ (and paying to do so) or other networks. Living on the west coast we just cannot physically get to the game but there are two of us in this household and we both are avid fans and will watch every televised game. And I will follow non-televised games online as best I can find.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Matt Tait


TV numbers seem to drive the entire thing, so you're definitely doing your part. But the optics of in-person, on-campus, rabid support can definitely play a role. Especially with the Big Ten, I would think.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Karen Mansfield-Stewart

Thanks for this article Matt. I think many KU fans think a Big10 invitation is in the cards but I think it's more likely that the Big10 won't expand at all - at least for a few years. While KU would be a good fit culturally, academically & geographically for the Big10, that alone won't get KU an invitation. I'm not sure KU (or a KU / ISU package) moves the conference money needle enough, or at all, for the Big10 and they will sit around and wait for a opportunity to poach another big money school(s). Hope I'm wrong.

If KU can show it can field a competitive football team within the next 2 or 3 years and bring in the associated TV viewers and money, there's a much better chance for an invitation.

Living on the east cost, I wish KU had its own streaming sports network so I could pay KU directly and further avoid giving ESPN any of my money. Maybe that is the future.

BTW - I'd love to see the Alumni Assoc. or another group start a program where alumni can purchase a season ticket and donate it to a local Boys & Girls Club or another organization to support the team, get some more fans in the stands, and do something positive for the community. If that exists, let me know so I can sign up!

1 year, 3 months ago

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Jeff Coffman

I donate quite a bit of my salary, but I'm not sure why we ask people to donate to buy football tickets when already we can't sell them all.

With regards to basketball, I believe the Williams Fund is already part of the package.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Dirk Medema

KMS - Have you considered contacting the B/Gs club directly? Guessing it is a nonprofit that could receive donations. You might also contact the athletic department to ask if there are nonprofits they work with. There might not be an existing program like you describe (Great Idea!) that is already established but there are established vehicles for making donations. I think Coach Self even has a nonprofit that gives back to the community. If you came to them with the idea, it might even be the impetus to begin a matching program.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Dirk Medema

This is a legit idea Matt. Besides periodic resurgences at KU, I was also at Purdue when Coach Tiller brought “basketball on grass” and winning games/championships to the school. I remember articles in the paper lamenting the empty seats even though they were winning.

Much like what Coach Leipold is doing with the program, getting big fan turnouts will also require a culture change. My experience is that it doesn’t happen in one year. More like 2-3 years lag on attendance.

I do think Karen’s idea would be a fabulous way to kickstart the change and invest in future success. Adults (in the future) will be more likely to invest in something that has previously been a positive experience.

Is there anything you/LJW could do to help? A Kickstarter program? Guessing there are lots more alumni like Karen that physically cannot make it to games but gladly would contribute to others being there.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Patrick Bryant

Pack the stadium by admitting students free for this season. All they would have to do is go to the ticket booth from Monday morning until 5 hours before kickoff, show their i.d. and receive a GA ticket for the east side. What about the $ we will lose, you say? Forward thinking says not being in a Power 5 conference will cost us a lot of $ year after year.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Patrick’s idea, with one caveat, proof of vaccine. KU is already doing an incentive program for vaccines, why not add this one on?

An idea I’ve always liked is to give a season ticket to a non-revenue sport for each football season ticket. You can exclude volleyball and baseball, since they do attract a good attendance.

I’d love Soccer or Softball season tickets as a reward for supporting football.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Steve Hillyer

Karen and Dirk, on kuathletics.com go to tickets, click on football and then there’s a drop down box for mobile ticketing and how to donate the tickets coming soon, though I’m not what’s keeping you from buying tickets now and donating them to an organization of your choice now, why wait?
Agree with you Matt but not only is it going to take an attitude change from the fans but also administration and the donors, this has been a problem in the making for decades, vast majority of people associated with KU (fans, admin, donors) are content with just being a basketball school and neglecting the rest of the athletic dept, I’ve never understood that, now we’re paying the price with a very good chance of having the basketball program become a mid major. Glen Mason and even in the early years of Terry Allen when he still had Mason’s players the team was competitive for perhaps a small bowl game or at least getting to .500 but the most we could ever get to the stadium was mid 30,000.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Karen Mansfield-Stewart

I guess there's nothing really standing in my way except I would think a more formalized partnership between the Alumni Assoc. & the Boy's & Girls Club, etc. would be far more effective than me just buying a ticket, then calling around Lawrence in my spare time trying to find a group that would want a single ticket or two and hope they actually go to the games.
A more scalable, efficient and realistic option would likely address logistical concerns like busses, chaperones, release forms, etc. Maybe Joel Embiid can buy a thousand season tickets to help kickstart the program!

1 year, 3 months ago

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Doug Roberts

Everyvody wants to pack the stands, but nobody wants to pay hundreds of dollars to watch dreadful football. It's really difficult to put the cart before the horse and get anywhere.

They've screwed up 3 or 4 times with hiring a coach now, and we cant miss anymore. Let's just hope (I believe he is) we hired the right one this time. It may be too late anyway.

FWIW, I'll be there September 3rd.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Steve and Matt, just f KU wants in a big time conference, try performing at a big time level.

Really tired of hearing how it’s the students/alums/fans fault for constantly bad football. I didn’t hire David Beaty. The single dumbest human being to on the planet.

I didn’t hire Turner Gill. A mediocre coach with no real track record.

I didn’t hire Charlie Weis.

One thing that I always tell young people: never care about something more than the people in charge.

If KU wanted to be in the Big Ten, then they would have gotten themselves in the Big Ten. But they didn’t. ALL FAULT, lies with the KU AD. ALL OF IT.

Quit putting responsibility on the people who have no control over anything.

Matt, pin this up on the wall as the worst column you have ever written.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Spencer Goff

Dude I was so much wordier... but thank you for saying this. This guilt trip garbage was thrown at me a decade ago, and we were far closer to better years back then.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Spencer Goff

Matt, this article is unrealistic in the current state. I get that this will be the "what, you aren't a diehard!?!?!?!" and I am not trying to flame your article.

While I agree, it would be better to have the stands packed, you live in Lawrence (area), you get paid to cover the team. Your situation is vastly different from most of our fanbase. The KUAD solution should not be to guilt trip families into crossing the country to float a bad football team, instead, the solution is for them to think outside the box about ways to get butts in those seats from the local population.

The free ticket for students/BG Club ideas floated by responders above is the only reasonable way to fill that stadium at present. For my family it requires three hours of driving both ways, a place to stay, and eating out. It is unrealistic to ask this of out-of-towners; it is a small vacation for their families and nobody is going to plan their family outing around a 1-2 win team. Never mind that, as of yet, my kiddos show no signs of caring about college football whatsoever (this is not the anomaly in youth today).

For the students living there? Give them a free ticket to the game, they would make the trek over the hill to the games. And nothing says college game atmosphere more than a bunch of rowdy students. The athletic department needs to figure out, every week, who is not coming to the game, and distribute those tickets to the student body.

When we lived there I got phone calls from the Chiefs trying to sell me cheap tickets for 10-20 bucks a pop. Why? They needed butts in the seats to avoid blackouts so they DID something. Why do we do nothing similar? Heck, give out free tickets to local high schoolers with great grade point averages, give them out to local businesses to give away, give them to Leavenworth military families, DO SOMETHING other than expecting people to pay, travel, and float them.

They don't have to do it forever, but they need to do something while they are down instead of guilt tripping or scaring people into attendance.

This is not on me and mine to float bad decision (Gill) after bad decision (Weiss) or "oh noes not get into the B1G!" This is on the people getting paid to come up with a better solution. The posters above have ideas, heck, hire them.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Randy Bombardier

Winning is about 50% of the issue i think, at least for KU fan culture. Not true in Ames. The other 50? Ingress, egress, parking, concessions, condition of facilities, especially restrooms, sound system and presentation,
tailgating, social networking.

KU needs to employ one person to do nothing but improve the game day experience, take polls, get feedback. It will be worth it.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Patrick Bryant

And add they go with the team on road trips, talk with the players & coaches on the trip home. Observe the other teams/stadiums and what they do. This not to say replicate but experience and formulate what could be done differently at Memorial.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Armen Kurdian

The only hope for this school is to build a CFP contending football team. Whether or not that is realistic is besides the point. That's where we are right now.

Remember when Colorado left the Big XII, and we scored 35 points in the 4th quarter to kick them in the jimmy on their way out the door? Might have been one of the most glorious moments in football since the Orange Bowl.

As impossible as it may seem today, beating OU & UT is vital.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Jeremy LeMaster

I was thinking along the same lines as Patrick above but for all fans.

Does it do the Athletic department any good to have empty seats? What is their break even cost for a butt in the seat? It would seem filling or nearly filling the stadium would be more important. Why not find a lower price structure to where it fills the stadium, gets momentum for the team by having a crowd and then raise it as it is full and there is more demand for tickets? Supply and demand are not balanced.

That is assuming price is a factor for a large enough portion of fans. If I got free tickets to a game, I would drive up, bring my kids and some of their friends. We would by food and drinks in the stadium. It certainly beats routinely not being able to see most games on ESPN+

1 year, 3 months ago

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Dirk Medema

Spencer, good, positive response, even if it took more words than normal to communicate.

Jeremy - I think one of the lessons learned in the past about free tickets was having the tickets pawned to opposing fans. Filling the stadium is good, but we want to be certain we’re not creating a hostile environment for the good guys.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Spencer Goff

Good points, needs to be a way to know they are using it as opposed to selling it. Has to be some kind of way to do this. Maybe have an ID only pickup at the gate similar to pickup at Kaufman. Has to be some way, but for sure, valid point, or we'll just be giving out free tickets to Sooners fans.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Jeff Coffman

These are the financial considerations of us into the Big Ten:

1) Almost all of the comparisons from the Big 12 to other conferences compares the Conference Payouts; however, they forget that the Big 12 is the only conference that does not give Tier 3 rights to the conference. KU adds about $12 MM in Tier 3 rights to those numbers, which is more than most schools, because a lot of the Basketball games end up on those and additionally, at least one football game does. Remember KU gets high dollars for its Tier 3 football, because the game is typically a competitive game; whereas OU versus the lackluster opponent gets zero attendance, and is over in the first 4 minutes of the game.

2) The gaining interest and the one that the SEC is touting is the ability to sell tickets. No KU isn't going to sellout tickets to football games; however, Michigan doesn't have to worry about selling out. What KU brings is the Road Sell-outs in Basketball and an increase in ticket revenue in general for basketball. KU hasn't played in an arena that wasn't sold out (for conference play) for a long time and brings that to the conference and increases the amount those tickets are sold for.

KU doesn't have to increase the total package, they just don't have to downgrade it. KU brings more to the table then people realize and most people are looking for reasons why KU should not be admitted, rather than for the reasons it should be admitted into the Big 10.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Patrick Bryant

How about raising ticket prices for the opponent's fans if we could convince our fan base to not sell their tickets to opponents? Make them think twice about coming to town and if they are die hards, let them support KU financially. We fly in for games and there are some mighty big jets flying in for games so there's some money to be had especially from down south. You know those fat cats couldn't resist ponying up to not be excluded.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Jeremy LeMaster

Fair point, Dirk.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Robert Lofthouse

If the SEC extended an offer to KU, they get a no-threat fb team along with a blue-blood bb team. This action collapses the BIG12 and brings in Oklahoma and Texas much sooner. OU and UT get out of their financial burden sooner, and the presence of KU doesn't really water down the $$$$$ take given everything else in play there. Seems like an easy choice for the SEC and it's all about getting their money sooner. It's a win-win for the SEC at very little risk or comparative cost.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Doug Roberts

"IF YOU WIN... THEY WILL COME."

1 year, 3 months ago

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Steve Hillyer

Jeff, KU gets about $4 million for tier 3, before the espn+ junk we signed onto we got 7 million. Anyway with the announcement today of the impending alliance between the other three conferences it looks like they all value broad based sports offerings, KU 16 varsity sports isn’t going to cut it when the Big 10, pac 12 and acc all offer over 20, this is what I mean when administration ignored the athletic dept other than basketball, no way KU with its profile should only be offering 16 sports, that’s minor league mid major stuff which is where we will be before too much longer.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Charlie Gaughn

Moving one of our 6 games to Friday night won’t help overall sales. That could be a very dismal crowd.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Matt Tait

Good stuff, everyone. Lots of fun and intriguing ideas in here and lots of good discussion. Appreciate all of you checking out the story and contributing to the site!

Whether you're talking football only, the athletic department as a whole or the massive topic of realignment and what happens there, it's all going to be very interesting to follow.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Micky Baker

I think that everyone has a choice, but for the students there on campus on gamedays, why should they not go? Here's another thing, do not let people leave the stadium and get back in, they would be less likely to leave at half time.

Overall, for all KU fans, there are a lot of teams that do not win many games and still put fans in the stadium. I do acknowledge the concerns of not wanting to watch bad football, but you know, my favorite teams do not always have a winning record every year, but I still support them. If I lived right around Lawrence, I would go to every home game. My work schedule just not allow me the time to drive up there on Friday or get up early in the morning and drive 400 miles, It would also help if the parking situation near Memorial Stadium is expanded,

1 year, 3 months ago

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Gavin Fritton

This column is generating a lot of heat and I just want to echo the above idea of free admission for all students. First, the tickets they'd be giving away are tickets they probably wouldn't have sold anyway, so what does it really cost the Athletic Department? They won't necessarily *MAKE* money on ticket sales, but they'll have a full(er) stadium to show on game day and they'll probably make some money from concessions just the same.

I would also like to echo the voices above that point out this this kind of hard sell is imposed on us every year by the KUAD. I am not blaming Goff or Leipold and I really do think that we, finally, have the right people for the job in the spot to succeed. Btu this is Goff's problem to solve. If he wants butts in seats, if he wants to present that game day atmosphere, he needs to be the one to make the sacrifices to get it done. KU fans have sacrificed plenty. I let my season tickets lapse awhile ago (I live in JoCo, have familial obligations, etc., just as do many of the commenters here) and it's already an investment of time I don't always readily have to go to a game, especially one at 11:00AM, which is the worst of all kickoff times and also where KU is most routinely banished. If Goff wants me to attend, send me a pair of tickets. I promise to show up. KU fans have always wanted a winner and when we've had one, we've shown up. But the state of the program is not the fault of the fans, yet the fans always seem to be asked to jump without looking. Meet me halfway, KU. Make it easier and cheaper to attend. Get some afternoon games.

1 year, 3 months ago

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Matt Tait

I understand all of this and agree 100% that it's not the fault of the fans that the program is in the shape it's in nor the responsibility of the fans to change it.

But the game has changed. That was the point of this column.

Five years ago, when the Big 12 was stable and the expiration of the grant of rights seemed like it may come when we have flying cars, it was a little misguided for anyone to put any of this on the fan base.

But now that we're talking about the university's future in a power conference being on the line, I think anyone and everyone who can do their part should at least consider doing so. Or at least be quiet if things don't work out and they did nothing.

As I've said before, ALL of this is going to be very interesting to watch...

1 year, 3 months ago

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