Memorial Stadium pretty but imperfect
Few college football stadiums can boast as picturesque a setting as Kansas University's Memorial Stadium.
Located at the foot of Mount Oread, with green space sprawling southward up Campanile Hill, Memorial Stadium is one of the few college facilities remaining that juxtaposes football with scenery.
Nevertheless, Memorial Stadium is still the oldest campus stadium west of the Mississippi River, and it does have its drawbacks. Parking, for instance. And access roads. At KU, early arrival is a necessity, and staying late isn't a bad idea, either.
Then there is the ancient 88-year-old structure itself. Back in the mid-1990s, KU officials took a hard look at the stadium after spending more than $800,000 for waterproofing and repair of structural damage.
Hey, they said, what are we going to do with this place? The rest rooms are outmoded, the concession stands are pre-Cambrian and the concourses are mushroom habitat.
At the time, there was talk of building a brand-new stadium somewhere east on K-10 highway where the land was flat and access would be optimal from the the K.C. Metro area and, after the South Lawrence Trafficway was completed (ha!), from the west, as well.
Logical, yes. But traditionalists balked at such a move, grousing that moving football off-campus reeked of commercialism even though the only thing more commercial than football at KU is men's
Not that it mattered. KU couldn't afford to build a new stadium anyway. At the time, a bare-bones football facility would have cost at least $50 million, and KU couldn't hope to raise that kind of cash.
Still, Memorial Stadium was becoming shabbier and shabbier. With its parking and access issues, it was asking a lot to expect people to come and watch a game in a dump. So the athletic department issued $26 million in revenue bonds for a massive facelift. At the same time, a new press box with luxury suites went up, financed by the suite holders.
This was in 1999, and Kansas was poised to enter the 21st century as a major player in major-college football. That didn't happen, of course, until last fall when the Jayhawks rode a serendipity comet to a 12-1 season.
Looking at it another way, in 2007 Kansas had the best football team in the America that plays on a field surrounded by a competitive track.
Now there is talk of building a separate track facility, removing the track and making Memorial Stadium strictly a football arena. If they removed the track, they could lower the playing field and make the first 10 or so rows into premium seating, whereas now players block the view from those rows.
But can the field be lowered without causing serious drainage problems? Excessive rainwater cascading down Campanile Hill could turn Memorial Stadium into an outdoor swimming pool. But perhaps that problem could be solved.
Regardless, Memorial Stadium, squeezed into a tight urban-campus space, continues to maintain the aura of what the whole college football experience is all about.
And let's face it, what football stadium doesn't have some kind of access and parking problems?