New University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long took a sensible approach to the remodel of Memorial Stadium during a Lawrence chamber of commerce luncheon Friday.

Long said the university needed to rebuild the football program before taking on rebuilding the stadium. He couldn’t be more right.

“I am not sure where the campaign is,” Long said of the effort to raise funds for the Memorial Stadium remodel. “But we need to raise funds for coaches to go out and recruit the players who would build the team. There are things missing in our program — that is going to take resources.”

A year ago, Long’s predecessor, Sheahon Zenger, announced the launch of Raise the Chant, a five-year campaign to raise $350 million for improvements to athletic facilities. Zenger argued that first-class facilities were key to landing the kind of recruits who would change KU’s football fortunes.

The facility improvements included upgrades to baseball stadium Hoglund Ballpark, construction of a new 3,000-seat volleyball arena, a new indoor practice facility for football and renovations to Allen Fieldhouse. But the centerpiece of the project was the $300 million renovation of Memorial Stadium.

The problem was, Zenger was putting the cart before the horse. The KU football program was mired in a decadelong slump that had driven Memorial attendance to the lowest mark in major college football.

It’s hard to raise $300 million for a football program that had only won three games in three years. Zenger was dismissed in May, and Long entered with a clear mandate to fix football.

“The stadium is still very important,” Long said, but building a new program has to take priority ... .

That makes sense. With Kansas’ win Saturday over Rutgers, the Jayhawks are 2-1 and have a two-game winning streak for the first time in seven years. Perhaps most importantly, more than 35,000 fans turned out for Saturday’s game.

... Still, it’s premature to assume things are fixed. ...

As Long knows, there is still much work to be done to get Kansas football to where it can compete with the other programs in the Big 12. All efforts should be focused first and foremost on getting the coaches and players necessary to win more consistently and put fans back in the stadium.

When that happens, the Raise the Chant campaign will have a much greater chance of success.


Lawrence Journal-World