Same as it ever was, the University of Kansas men’s basketball team lives in the limelight.
The Jayhawks have legitimate national championship aspirations amid marquee early games in Hawaii and New York. And the program is freshly replenished by the latest massive investment in it: the donor-funded $21.7 million DeBruce Center housing James Naismith’s original rules of the game purchased at auction for $4.3 million by boosters.
Meanwhile, even with the signature program globetrotting, it was a bustling weekend here for KU athletics.
The fourth-ranked volleyball team played host to Texas Christian on Saturday. Women’s basketball opens its season against Missouri State on Sunday. And also Sunday, the women’s soccer team rekindles the dormant rivalry by playing Missouri in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at Rock Chalk Park, a $39 million project that opened in 2014.
Mired in the middle of all this thriving, vibrant stuff on Saturday was the ho-hum and humbling afterthought of KU football.
In the rickety 1921 stadium that a combination of logistics and failure on the field keep gridlocked in neglect, the latest episode of this exercise in futility was KU’s 19th straight Big 12 loss.
The 31-24 defeat administered by Iowa State, which like KU entered the game 1-8 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play, was the best chance KU was going to have to end that streak this season.
Now it seems more likely than not that coach David Beaty will be 1-23 after his second season at KU, so no wonder he was uncharacteristically abrupt after the Jayhawks dropped a game they had led 14-3.
This wasn’t unexpected by others, of course, for a program that is now 10-60 the last five-plus seasons and had been clobbered 276-93 in conference play this season.
But what to do about it?
Kansas can’t abolish football, and it can’t be “relegated” to a lower level as brought to the forefront in soccer by the English Premier League.
So here it sits, sputtering and grinding with no tangible sign of ever extricating itself from this mess.
So on a sun-splashed KU Salute to Service day at Memorial Stadium, only the few and the proud were on hand.
The announced attendance was 23,757 (tickets sold), but in reality it might have been fewer than the 16,300 always sardined into Allen Fieldhouse for men’s basketball games.
But just who is supposed to care about this misery? Especially on a day KU was playing Iowa State in ostensibly one of the most meaningless major-college games in the country.
Well, here is who: the beleaguered coaching staff and plagued players and anyone who loves them.
“One of the things we say a lot is, ‘We’re all we’ve got; we’re all we need,’ ” fullback Michael Zunica said.
The “all we need” part remains to be seen, at least in terms of results on the field.
But the “all we’ve got” part is hard to dispute.
With so many backs turned on them, they are left to navigate the difference between one definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results — and gaining just a sliver of a shred of a morsel of any traction at all.
They can’t care that you don’t since this means more to them than any of us can imagine.
Because the perpetual losing carries its own unique kind of hurt, something that tests all capacity for resolve and can’t help but make you feel for them.
This kind of losing is reminiscent of what Bill Snyder inherited at Kansas State, a program that had won three games in four years at the time.
In interviews with exiting players, he came to fear the experience was emotionally scarring them for life.
It’s hard to say with conviction yet whether Beaty is the man who can stabilize this reeling program.
If you want to believe in him, if you understand what he inherited, you can see glimpses and might be reminded that the difference in the game was a play or two and that this is all in the nature of rebuilding.
Albeit punctuated by an interception that forfeited KU’s final chance, freshman quarterback Carter Stanley had some fine moments in his first career start. For that matter, senior running back Ke’aun Kinner rushed for 152 yards, and Fish Smithson’s interception seemed to be a spark.
If you don’t want to believe in Beaty, well, it’s also hard to argue there’s any substantial progress on the field.
The Jayhawks were plowed for 238 rushing yards, fumbled a punt at their own 10-yard line, were hindered by Beaty’s goofy decision to punt with his quarterback on fourth and 2 at the Iowa State 37 with a 14-3 lead and simply couldn’t stop the Cyclones in the second half.
So you can see what you want to see here in the building blocks, or lack thereof.
But the indisputable truth is it’s going nowhere soon, and it stands out all the more because of its increasing irrelevance on the KU landscape as other sports thrive.
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