Travis Goff: Why I Believe KU’s Best Days are Ahead of us
When I think back on my journey as a fan, student, alum and now as Director of Athletics, one descriptor of the University of Kansas ultimately comes to mind first: exceptional people. That’s been true since well before I returned home last April, and the year since has only reinforced that association. Now, though, there are four other people who can say the same about KU: my own family.
I’m a firm believer that you can’t have a special place without special people, and we have no shortage of the latter here. From our chancellor to our student-athletes to our alumni and our coaches and staff, this community is a family affair. Watching my wife and our three Chicago-born children become fully immersed in Lawrence has been a highlight for me during Year 1, and I’m so thankful for the entire Jayhawk family’s role in that.
Like many folks across America, my kids fell in love with our men’s and women’s basketball teams this March. They each have their own favorite student-athletes, and it was fun to see who they latched onto. One individual that won them over on the men’s basketball team was David McCormack, because right in the heart of the NCAA Tournament run, he took time to visit with all three of my children, give them each some attention and take several photos. They were enamored — by his personality, by his warmth and, of course, while looking up in awe at his 6-foot-10 frame. People like David make me so thankful for this Kansas family.
We all need to remember that these student-athletes are 18- to 23-year-olds undergoing arguably the most transformative time of their life. And on the biggest stage, with their backs against the wall, they pulled off the greatest comeback in National Championship history. They achieved something that human nature says is near impossible. There truly is only an exceptionally small group of athletes and teams that could stay together through that adversity and cut down the nets. As I reflect on the year that I’ve been in this position, that observation rings as true as ever.
These last 12 months have flown by. It’s been fast paced, incredibly energizing and created a degree of hope and optimism that even I couldn’t have expected. And believe me: that was a high bar to clear.
Where we’ve been
Where should I start? Well, a National Championship is as good a place as any.
What those young men, coaches and support staff members on our men’s basketball team achieved this season was nothing short of incredible. Their work ethic, unity and resilience can serve as examples for not only our other athletics programs but the department and university as a whole. Everyone in that locker room will be immortalized for what they accomplished, and deservedly so.
A National Championship, particularly one in a headliner program like men’s basketball, does so many things for an Athletics department and a university. This has a chance to not be a trickle-down effect, but rather a flood of momentum across virtually all aspects at KU. Applications should see a noticeable, if not significant, spike. The financial viability of Athletics and to some extent the university certainly has opportunities to be improved. And for our other programs, the bar just got raised. Not all of them are prepared to go off and compete for National Championships, but I know this: Compared to a month ago, they’re all more motivated to reach even greater heights.
The question becomes, then, what are we going to do with this momentum? As we celebrate and bask in this moment, I want to emphasize that this National Championship in men’s basketball MUST have a profound impact on our men’s basketball program in multiple facets. We have to double down on our commitment to that program and the incredible crown jewel it has been for KU for so many generations. This needs to be a catalyst for ensuring we only do more to support and invest in its storied tradition and bright future.
It’s also important to acknowledge that a championship represents something more than just the team that earned it. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to surprise the provost, her leadership group and a few of our deans by bringing the national title trophy and some gear to their meeting. One of my priorities is to make sure everyone across campus, Athletics or not, know they’re champions too. They all help moments like this happen. Athletics isn’t going to operate in a silo. We’re going to be integrated. We’re going to be partners across campus that can add value to any and all different areas. It’s a critical part in building alignment, credibility and trust.
On a personal level, I’m proud of the degree of buy-in we’ve received throughout the entire Athletics department across this first year. We have an amazing blend of loyal, dedicated folks who have been here for a long time and have done so much for KU and fresh faces who bring new perspectives, experience and leadership skills. It’s all fitting together and demonstrating that not only do we have an exceptional team here, but the momentum is real. We’re only just beginning to fire on all cylinders.
Where we’re going
There’s another word that comes to mind when I think about KU: potential.
Potential shows itself in many ways, from a student-athlete winning a championship to a coach or administrator making a real difference in someone’s life. Another way potential is displayed is through a passionate and supportive fan base, and we’ve certainly got that box checked here at KU. In my estimation, we have the best fans in America. We feel your energy and optimism every single day. Without it, it’s awfully difficult for an Athletics department or university to reach its potential. With it, I have complete confidence that our best days are ahead of us.
So, what’s next? First, we have to continue to move forward with our culture-building process. I knew it was going to be important when I started in this role and there’s much work left to be done, not only within our department but with our partners across campus. Building a vibrant culture is reliant upon establishing trust, credibility and transparency, not just within the walls of Kansas Athletics but with our campus community, fans, constituents and all supporters. I feel good about the trajectory and momentum in this realm but it must be a day-to-day commitment.
Secondly, we must continue to embrace a heightened standard for our department and its programs. From women’s basketball to volleyball, several of our teams took important and steps forward this year. It is our objective to empower and fuel all of our programs to raise the standard, not only in the field of play but academically and in every other metric.
Related, we will continue to commit day-in and day-out to build this football program the right way. We could not be more confident in what Coach Leipold and his staff have already achieved in their short time. But no one person or staff can achieve our lofty ambitions alone. There’s never been a more critical time to move our football program forward.
Finally, we’re going to rely more on tangible measures of success and progress. We are working on a strategic plan that will launch in the fall; one of real impact, clear metrics and transparency. Another tangible indicator is investment in the student-athlete and fan experience, which is in part achieved through facilities and infrastructure. There’s tremendous potential to make a strategic statement and investment in key facilities that will have a broad-based impact on Athletics, the university, the community and the state. I could not be more excited and optimistic about our progression in this area.
No place like home
As I mentioned, all three of my children were born just north of Chicago, so returning there for the Midwest Regional carried special meaning. Walking out on that court at the United Center long after the team cut down the nets and watching my kids play in the leftover confetti, I stopped and allowed myself a moment to soak it in. Next came the Final Four in New Orleans, where my wife, Nancy, and I met and started our journey together. Those moments emphasized what a privilege I have to serve my alma mater and share this experience with the people I love most.
Looking forward, I truly believe that we have more potential than any other athletic program in the country. In order for us to fully realize that potential, though, we need to mobilize, solicit and earn support in ways that has never been done before at the University of Kansas. We must use this momentum to raise the bar, support our student-athletes and elevate the entire University. Let’s ride this wave of momentum together, through 2022 and beyond.
Rock Chalk, National Champions!