Yesterday's FanShot from MadCat was a good illustration of the utter arrogance Nebraska fans can display. It also demonstrated the pointlessness of their thinking on the issue discussed, as I'm not really sure why they would be worried about their athletic department feeling sorry for schools like K-State, Iowa State and Colorado.
However, after reading the story the quote was culled from, and another linked article, it occurred to me that the topic was worth discussing in K-State circles, too. While the tone of the Nebraska article discussed what it needs to do to close the revenue gap with Texas -- my answer: pray for Tom Osborne to win the PowerBall and decide to donate it all to the athletic department -- we need to discuss what needs to be done to a) get ourselves out of the mess we're in right now, and b) grow our revenue and athletic department budget in every way possible. Nebraska has the luxury of talking about what it can do to close the gap with the Joneses of the Big 12 because they are among the big spenders and big earners in the Big 12. The popping sounds you've been hearing are the exploding heads of Husker fans who read that and say, "Whatever do you mean?! We're one of the Big 12's downtrodden!" Don't believe it, and be thankful that I have written something that means there are fewer of that type of Husker fan with whom you have to deal.
Anyway, with a new athletic director in place, it's time for us to try and move past this very dark period in K-State athletics and discuss what the future needs to hold if we are to return our football program to its late-1990s/early 2000s level and our men's basketball program to its pre-1990 level.
Get the Wildcat Victory campaign rolling: A quick check of the site reveals that the latest update is from January of this year, and all that's been done is some test soil samples. I'm very concerned that the perfect storm of the economy tanking and the utter financial irresponsibility shown by Jon Wefald and Bob Krause in the last several years is going to lead to a big delay for this project. Already, we're hearing scuttle that some of the biggest donors are drying up as it seems we get weekly reports of financial mismanagement.
It's a daunting task, John Currie, and I don't envy you. You have to get Great Plainsmen (and women) to trust you with their hard-earned money, not an easy task with a historically frugal group of people in the best of times. But it can be done. Currie will undoubtedly go about regaining the donor's trust in his own way, and it seems that he's promising transparency as an enticement so that donors will know what's happening. That's a good start, as long as he makes good on it. While I acknowledge to all donors that your money is yours and you may spend it as you see fit, I also remind you that the old guard is gone. Both Currie and new K-State President Kirk Schulz are outsiders who have no connection to the Wefald/Krause regime. Make them prove themselves, but don't hold them responsible for the sins of the last few years.
Branding: I hate that school to the east as much as anyone, but they're kicking our ass when it comes to getting their brand out there. It starts with the little things, like making every department on campus use the school colors, font -- we need to pick one and stick with it -- and logo. Not whatever they think looks cool, something that immediately screams to the person viewing it "THIS IS K-STATE!!! NOT SOME RANDOM SCHOOL WITH WEIRD BLACK AND ORANGE-ISH COLORS!"
To extend the theme, all athletic department licensed gear needs to bear the phrase "K-State." Not "KSU." Not "Kansas State." Only the full "Kansas State University" is an acceptable substitute. For the most part, people recognize us by K-State, but we need to make damn sure that everyone knows you're talking purple and white and Powercats when you're talking K-State. Oh, and making everybody use the font the football and men's basketball teams have been using the last year or two would be a good start, too. I realize there are some, and some people whom I really respect, who don't think we should surrender our identity by shortening "Kansas" to the "K" in K-State. I understand the concern, but K-State is a sleeker phrase than the mouthful that is "Kansas State," which counts for something in today's digital world, and if we brand it well enough, people will know the "K" stands for Kansas.
I think the point has already been made, but all this needs to be aimed at improving merchandise sales. When I worked at Manhattan Country Club, I remember it being quite an ordeal for K-State to permit us to use the school's "logo" on golf apparel, and even when they let us use it, we only got the outdated logo that had the line drawing of Anderson Hall's tower with "K-State" next to it. Use the Powercat. Embrace it. Love it. I had a Missouri fan, of all people, tell me that he considers the Powercat the epitome of what a sports logo should be. Let's run with it. And while we're at it, let's make it easy for companies to use the logo. We practically give it away to high schools. I'm not saying we should sell the rights to it for $1 to t-shirt companies, but work with them. By selling shirts with our logo, they are putting money in our coffers.
Come up with a succession plan for Bill Snyder yesterday: While we'll never know what actually happened when Snyder retired the first time, it's fairly clear we really weren't ready for him to retire. After he stepped down, rumors flew about which one of his old assistants might come back to Manhattan to wear the legend's crown. One by one, it became clear none of them were interested or, as seems more plausible now, weren't contacted in Wefald's race to hire Ron Prince before all those other worthy suiters could snap him up.
While Snyder seems to be recharged and ready for this new challenge, he's 70 years old. He's not going to coach forever. We need to prepare for that eventuality now so that we aren't left scrambling when it does. Maybe he'll coach for 10 years, but maybe he won't. And please, for the love of God, don't let word slip that you've hired Gary Patterson when letting that word get out to the media will result in angry denials and a full-blown shit-storm that results in the administration tucking its collective tail between its legs and going back to the retired legend and begging him to bail them out.
Sell tickets: Clearly, the best way to accomplish this goal is to win games. A winning team will always put fans in the seats. But, painful as it is for me to say, we're not going to win at the rate we did 5-10 years ago, at least not right away. In the interim, we need to figure out how to get paying people in the seats. There are a lot of options available, and I'm not sure which one is best. We could do half-season ticket packages, like KU has done. We could do what Iowa State and Oklahoma State have done and do away with individual-game tickets. If it's permissible within Big 12 and NCAA rules, we could introduce tiered pricing for upper-deck seats. Along with that...
Improve the upper-deck experience: Thankfully, I've never sat up there, but having to go down endless flights of stairs for food and excretory relief is a joke. I'll let Panjandrum rant on this, as he's more experienced with the travails of the upper deck than I am.
Schedule home non-conference games: We're taking a lot of heat for our schedule right now, and deservedly so, considering that we play two FCS teams this season. I don't want to see two FCS teams on the schedule. One should always be the absolute maximum. But right now, we need money, and home football games equal money. In a normal year, we are guaranteed four home conference games. With four non-conference games, we should never have fewer than seven home games in a season. Schedule the best opponents available, and try to throw the fans a bone if you can, but don't give in to the criticism from the cupcake haters. We need to worry about ourselves right now, not some platonic ideal of what the perfect non-conference schedule should look like.
Also, if we can wrangle the occasional neutral-site deal like we got for the Iowa State game, we should consider it. I don't like neutral site games at all, especially against Iowa freaking State. But if it's absolutely necessary, and we can get a big payout from a game at Arrowhead Stadium against someone like Ohio State, I say we take it. Snyder probably won't go for it, but if the money is there and he gets things going back in the right direction, I can dream, can't I?
Oh, and I'm still adamantly opposed to Thursday night games, in case anyone's curious.
Schedule better teams at home: Like that little flip-flop? Yep, I don't really care as much about the quality of the football schedule beyond some minimum standard as I do the quality of the basketball schedule. Know why? Because no matter the opponent, if the football product is decent, we're going to put 40,000 fans in the stadium. However, we've proven that even when the men's basketball program is at its highest level since the late 1980s, we won't fill Bramlage on a consistent basis for meaningless non-conference games against Wofford. Even when we have a No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, we couldn't sell out the arena every night. Last year, with an exciting team that again earned a Big 12 bye, we couldn't even average 9,000 fans per home game.
I understand that we need to have some of those games to work on things and build confidence before conference play begins. I understand that we can't schedule UCLA and North Carolina for home-and-homes. But we have to get at least two or three marquee games on the home slate each year. If we can't get the elite programs like Duke and Louisville, at least get solid programs from the Big East, ACC and Pac-10. We need games like that to sell tickets and to test our program against the best teams available.
Lock up Frank Martin: Next season holds a lot of promise for K-State, as almost everyone returns, including Denis Clemente, and we add players like Wally Judge, Rodney McGruder and Curtis Kelly. I'm not going to make any wild predictions, but it seems an NCAA berth should be the minimum expectation, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this team makes it to the Sweet 16. If that happens, there will be some programs with coaching vacancies who will take a long look at Frank Martin (and Dalonte Hill). I'm not worried too much about Hill, because with his $420,000 salary, the only way he's leaving Manhattan is for a head-coaching gig, and I'm not sure most athletic directors are ready to put him in charge of their program at age 30. But someone might want to sign Martin up, and if he leaves there's a good chance he might convince the school that hires him to take Hill, too. We need to get Martin's salary competitive, and soon.
Lock up Brad Hill, Sean McCann and Andy Sawyers: I'm not talking about throwing big money around here, but do what's necessary to keep them in Manhattan. A baseball program that consistently competes near the top of the Big 12 and makes it to NCAA Regionals can at least support itself. Money that doesn't have to pay for baseball expenses can be spent on something else.
Hope that Texas A&M continues to suck and/or Nebraska's revenues continue to fall: If either of these happen for a prolonged period, we may just get that ninth vote that would change the Big 12 bylaws and authorize equal revenue sharing as these schools realize that it's easier to compete with Texas by dragging them down to everyone else's level rather than by raising their own boat.