Even by the standards of a team that began last season by losing its home opener to Coastal Carolina, Kansas is coming off a particularly gruesome offseason.
In March, the school had to part ways with coach Les Miles after previous sexual harassment allegations came to light. This was followed by athletic director Jeff Long stepping down, after which came a deeply disturbing story about a player allegedly bought off by the university when he was threatened and harassed by teammates. Suffice to say, it’s a less-than-ideal situation for new coach Lance Leipold.
This stuff is nothing new. One could argue, in fact, that Kansas is the single worst major conference college football program in the country. Scandals and firings are just the inevitable symptoms; apathy is the disease. KU football is ultimately a mess because, deep down, Kansas fans just don’t care. At heart, KU is a basketball school. Duh. KU may be the most basketball-y school that’s ever basketballed. There isn’t another place in the country, with the possible exception of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to watch a sport in the place where it was born. Compared to that, what’s the occasional bowl game? I’m old enough to remember when Glen Mason and Mark Mangino fielded winning teams. Those clubs didn’t get half the love of an average Big 12 win in basketball.
The Jayhawks don’t actually want to be good at football. They want to be adequate. Which is an impossible dream: Winning at the highest tier of college football means ruthless recruiting, shimmering new stadiums and gyms that look like a billionaire’s playpen. Anything less is a recipe for losing 6-3 to a team that plays in a conference below bowl eligibility. Something else is at work here, too. Maybe it’s just an excuse for all the losing, but some Jayhawk fans seem to see football as déclassé.
The more we learn about what football does to young bodies, the harder it is to watch the game with a clear conscience. That’s perhaps doubly true for the chardonnay-sippers on Snob Hill. At least, Jayhawk fans can tell ourselves, basketball doesn’t give the kids chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Maybe this is all rationalization. For that matter, maybe Leipold, unlike Miles, David Beaty, Turner Gill and Charlie Weis, can finally build a winner in Lawrence. If he does, will anyone really care?