- Associated Press - Friday, September 22, 2017

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Kansas making a bold investment in its long-suffering football program.

The school revealed during a dinner for some of its most influential donors Friday night a $350 million plan to overhaul its football stadium and improve other facilities. Longtime benefactor David Booth kicked off the campaign with a $50 million pledge, the largest in Kansas Athletics history.

Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod said the initial gift will allow the school to begin construction of a much-needed indoor practice facility immediately after this season.

“The ‘Raise the Chant’ campaign, with its primary focus on football, addresses an institutional priority for the University of Kansas,” Girod said. “A competitive football program benefits the entire university and is important for KU to continue being a strong member of the Big 12 Conference.”

Along with the investment in football, Girod and athletic director Sheahon Zenger announced a $10 million pledge from another longtime benefactor, Stu Horejsi, for a new 3,000-seat arena for the Kansas volleyball program. That building will begin construction after this season.

“We loved the concept of the new arena, especially Sheahon’s vision of connecting a hospitality area to the existing one in Allen Fieldhouse,” Horejsi said. “That will take fan enjoyment to a new level.”

In football, the Jayhawks (1-2) head into Saturday’s league opener against West Virginia after back-to-back losses to Central Michigan and Ohio. They haven’t had a winning season since 2008, though several donors believe third-year coach David Beaty is on the right track.

A big reason for the struggles over the past decade has been the facilities. Memorial Stadium has undergone only minor upgrades over the years, such as a new touchdown club behind the north end zone that was unveiled this year, but hasn’t had a true renovation in decades.

The stadium was built in 1920, making it one of the oldest west of the Mississippi River.

The school finally unveiled to donors Friday night renderings that Zenger and school officials have been tweaking for years. Their hope is to start improvements to the south end zone and west side after the 2018 season, and to the north end zone and east side whenever it becomes feasible.

Renovations will include premium seating options, expanded concourses and viewing decks, and improved concessions and other amenities designed to attract fans on game day.

“In recent years, we have transformed the university with nearly $1 billion in new and renovated facilities, and this is the next step in that transformation,” Girod said. “I have the utmost confidence in Sheahon and believe we have the right people at the right time for this campaign.”

Booth, who founded a highly successful investment fund, has been a visible supporter of Kansas for years. His family donated $9 million in 2004 to build the Booth Hall of Athletics adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse, the home of the Jayhawks’ basketball program, and in 2010 laid out more than $4.3 million to purchase the original rules of basketball at auction - then donated them to the school.

Booth can often be seen courtside cheering on coach Bill Self’s perennial powerhouse.

“In listening to Sheahon’s vision of many years, and believing in where Coach Self’s program is and where Coach Beaty’s program is headed, I am proud to support my alma mater’s athletic program,” he said in a statement. “I believe Sheahon’s plan for football and basketball is essential not only to the future of Kansas Athletics, but also to the university as a whole.”

The school intends to raise the bulk of the financing for its projects from donors, but some of the funding will come from its contract with adidas. Girod and Zenger announced Friday night a $191 million, 14-year sponsorship and apparel contract extension with the company.

“This is a strategic partnership,” Zenger said, “a comprehensive, institutional approach unlike any apparel agreement in the country. It will not only help us achieve our goals of renovating Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse, but it will also reflect adidas and Kansas Athletics’ commitment to academics and community involvement.”

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