Olympic Village would shed light on soccer problems

It’s the waning minutes of the Texas-Kansas soccer match on Sept. 30 at the Jayhawk Soccer Complex. Both teams have expended effort for 115 minutes — through 90 minutes of regulation play and another 25 of overtime — hoping to gain ground in the conference standings.

As daylight fades, the street lights in the parking lot flicker on illuminating the blue and burnt orange blurs of players on the field. Then the softball lights flash on and bleed over the concrete wall that separates the two parts of the Kansas athletic complex.

About 10 minutes after the game (a 3-2 Jayhawk victory), players gather their soccer gear and head toward the locker room. Their shadows extend out as they walk beneath the streetlights. Freshman goalkeeper Kaitlyn Stroud remembers that game. She said during the first overtime she had trouble spotting the ball and her teammates. By the second overtime she couldn’t see anything at all. But that’s the current state of Kansas soccer, the only Big 12 program that doesn’t play night home games.

So why don’t they have lights? What would such a project cost? And are there other, temporary, solutions? Kansas Athletics has answers to all of these questions, but simply put, they lack the money.

Money difficulties

With athletic budget constraints and changes near the top of the athletic program, it’s been difficult to push forward with other projects related to the Olympic sport programs.

“We don’t have what they expect them to have and that’s frustrating because we have the locker room and everything as good as it can be,” Kansas senior associate athletics director Sean Lester said. “Everything is perfect that’s the only thing missing.”

As part of a 2009 master plan, the Kansas athletic department anticipated lights and the relocation of the soccer stadium would be a part of a $24.6 million KU Olympic Village south of Allen Fieldhouse. Plans for the village include separate soccer, track, and softball stadiums. Only the softball stadium is set in its permanent location. There is no projected date of completion for the other two stadiums.

Lester said the soccer field will eventually move from its current location, so spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lights would be counter productive. Eight of the other nine teams in the Big 12 all have permanent lighting systems at their soccer complexes.

Iowa State was one of the last schools to get lighting on its stadium. According to Cyclones.com, the soccer-specific facility was upgraded with the $170,000 installation of a permanent lighting system in 2004.

Recruiting Hindrance

When asked about the lack of lighting, Kansas soccer coach Mark Francis expressed his concern over the inability to play night matches.

“We are at a huge disadvantage, recruiting wise is really where it hurts us the most because we have a great locker room. We have a great weight room. We have unbelievable academic support, and so they get all that when you do the visit,” Francis said.

“But when they come out to your game at five o’clock or four o’clock or three o’clock. They’re like ‘holy cow’ this is not at the same level as the rest of it.”

Playing during the nighttime experience is not just something the coaches want, but also the players.

“I feel like it would be a really great addition to our stadium. It will be a lot fun to play in the night,” Stroud said. “It’s a lot more exciting when you play at night, and it’s just that mentality when you get under there and you play.

“It really does get you pumped up and ready to play, and it would be cool to be playing in the same home advantage under the lights.”

Francis discussed with Lester the option of bringing in temporary lighting for games prior to the season, but the cost was far too expensive. Musco Lighting sales representative Brad Thompson stated in an e-mail that the cost of temporary lighting varies.

“As you would expect the costs, equipment and installation of any project are going to be driven by the size of the field, the desired light level of that field and many others factors,” Thompson said in an e-mail. “We work very close with many customers and so many things can change each and every project that it would be best to say that there is no norm on permanent or temporary lighting.”

Moving locations

Another option for the program could be moving its games out of the Jayhawk Soccer Complex and onto the nearby Lawrence High School field that recently underwent soccer renovations. According to Lawrence High athletic director Ron Commons, Lawrence Free State High School and Lawrence High received around $14 million to upgrade soccer, football, softball, and baseball facilities. But Commons said that is not an option at this point.

“Unfortunately we would not be able to allow them to use our lights,” Commons said. “That’s part of the settlement agreement with the neighborhood association and the school district.”

When asked about moving games off the Lawrence campus, Lester said it would take away from the home field advantage.

“My personal opinion, not speaking for Kansas Athletics is that if you’re going to compete, you want to compete at home, period. Whether you’re competing at 4 p.m. or 6 p.m.,” Lester said.

So for now Kansas soccer is stuck in its current situation, but the hope is it can move forward with the project in the near future.

“We’re diving deep into what we know needs to get done,” Lester said. “Which is the Olympic Village and our AD Sheahon (Zenger) there is no question that the project that he wants to announce is the Olympic Village.”

— Edited by Josh Kantor, originally published Tuesday, November 8, on Kansan.com

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