Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Local broadcaster encourages Kansas to drop football

A colleague of mine encouraged me to watch "Jack's Smack," the video replay of local Kansas City media personality Jack Harry's weekly ramblings. I hesitated, knowing that my typical reaction when listening to and/or watching Harry was irritation or even anger. And, why give any sort of credence to Harry's pot-stirring by finding the replay on the web?

But, like a fly to light, I found the website and watched Harry take off on his new favorite whipping boy--University of Kansas football.

I'll spare you the details but here is the headline--Harry strongly encouraged Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to drop football as a sport at the University. He claimed that the program was an "embarrassment," comparing Kansas' troubles to the success being realized at the University of Missouri, owners of a 7-0 record thus far this season.

Now, I'm a pretty P-Oed alumnus right now and I'm not happy about ticket scandals, exercise equipment controversies, and an under-performing football program. But, seriously--drop football!? Even for Harry, this was a wild declaration.

Let's first start with the economics of that sort of decision:
- Kansas sunk millions of donor dollars into a new football office, training and locker-room complex at Memorial Stadium. Dropping the sport means disenfranchising giving alums whose dollars go towards many other needs of the University.
- While 50,000 fannies may not be in the seats at Memorial Stadium these days, there are that number of tickets which have been sold for each game. Let's say that number drops to 40,000 next year, given the on-field problems of this season. That's still in the area of $1.2-$1.5 million per game of ticket sales, or a total of about $7-$9 million per academic year. That revenue (which doesn't even count the licensing or concessions) would be lost if the program went bye-bye, and that's a significant amount for any college athletic budget.

Next, consider the impact on other sports and the University's brand:
- Was Harry paying attention during conference realignment discussions this past summer? Football was the swizzle stick which stirred the realignment drink. Punting football at Kansas makes the University totally irrelevant on the national athletics scene, and would undermine any hope for continuing KU's outstanding, championship basketball heritage.
- A well-known line is that "athletics is the front porch to the University." It's a fact that Kansas' enrollment increased in the year after the school's Orange Bowl win and NCAA Championship in hoops. That halcyon academic year is only three years past in the rear-view mirror. Suggesting that Kansas should drop football indicates a pessimism that the school can reach that level again--an odd proclamation given that the Jayhawks have experienced bad football before...and recovered to varying degrees of success.

Harry is stirring the pot. I know that and I wish that I'd not devoted even this small space to his rant. But, my anger is broader than just his latest missive about whether or not KU should have a football program. Harry is emblematic of the constant yelling which has become far too prevalent in our media outlets, where facts are secondary and too often impediments to what the media personality considers a story, an angle, or a chance to gig a fan base in order to stoke the fire of fan animosity--in this instance between Kansas and Missouri.

Carry on, Jack. Somewhere out there is some knucklehead who's bobbing his head and saying "yup, that ol' Harry is right." For that audience, you apparently are scratching an itch.

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