Opinion

Audio Astra: Athletics and finances in higher education, plus foster care concerns

August 13, 2021 3:33 am

Bill Self hands the the Big 12 Championship Trophy to players after Kansas defeated TCU on March 4, 2020, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

This week, I have been frequently quoting the Kansas podcasts that I heard. Of course, that is helped by living in a sports-crazed family during a week when the Big 12 is imploding. Plus, we hear reporting on education, which is on everyone’s mind as we return to school this month. This week’s podcasts will give you chatter for the dinner table or cocktail hour.

Could the Big 12 Revert to Being the Big 8?

Up To Date, Aug. 6, 2021

Sports reporter Dennis Dodd explains the quandary of the Big 12 by providing a deep dive into entertainment rights and sports. I’m with host Steve Kraske here in disbelief that we can talk about sports and not actually mention athletes or games. During this interview, the focus is on conference TV deals or the revenue that a particular university might bring to a conference. It is bizarre when those concerns override so much of what we value when we watch sports, namely the athletes, wins and losses.

The financial details are so prominent in 2021 that Dodd compares the financial value of rival schools and explains how conferences evaluate schools based on those potential revenues — rather than geography or storied rivalries. The news is sour for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. As accomplished as their athletes have been, both schools seem unlikely to provide enough revenue for a conference like the PAC-12 or the Big 10.

However, Dodd says, KU has one strength here. Especially important to entertainment executives is the quantity of “avid fans” that a program has. KU’s basketball team boasts many “avid fans” relative to other teams, boosting its value in the sports entertainment landscape.

The bottom line for KU and K State? Both seem in confusing, ever-changing and weak positions. While both compete well within the Big 12, they seem weakly positioned to join conferences of schools with behemoth revenues like Alabama, Penn State or USC. Those schools have showcase football programs that people want to watch nationwide — and, as Dodd says, football overrides all other sports.

Marlene Mawson Brought Women’s Athletics to University of Kansas

Up To Date, Aug. 5, 2021

It’s whiplash going from the huge money of the Big 12 fiasco to the birth of women’s university athletics during the 1960s. In a second “Up To Date” segment, Marlene Mawson of KU relives the process of bringing women’s sports from infancy to legitimacy.

She explains how “sport days” and “play days,” the isolated days when women would compete in limited sports at a particular university, were the only way to compete decades ago. Today, an entire industrial complex has grown up around women’s sports. This week, we watched the women’s volleyball team take the gold medal in Tokyo. It’s a striking contrast to hearing Mawson describe the clinics where they first learned the Olympic volleyball rules of serving overhand.

COVID-19 Challenged The Business Model At Kansas Universities And Revealed A ‘Tectonic Shift’

KMUW, Aug. 9, 2021

Ooooof. This report is either a gut punch or a wake up call. Or both.

This report explains how the pandemic brought even more uncertainty to the moment when students decide on their next steps — and the instability on the campuses they might call home. The debate at the core of Suzanne Perez’s reporting here is whether an in-person or online model will win out for college students. Is it necessary to attend an in-person university with football weekends, on-campus housing and a growing price tag? Or will online education suffice?

I think that two things can be true at once. Yes, students benefit from having on-campus experience. And yes, it is also true that some courses are just as valuable when taught online.

While the flexibility of online courses have been popular (and safe) during the pandemic, students are confused why some universities refuse to offer robust online course offerings going forward when they were able to offer them in the midst of an emergency.

Universities need to be more frank about what is best for each course and not lean on tradition. For instance, one of my courses at the University of Kansas is photojournalism, which is undeniably important to teach in person, so that students can understand how to work the physical equipment of a camera and lighting equipment. But another course that I teach could easily be taught online — leaving my students confused as to why it isn’t being offered in that way.

How honest a given university is willing to be with itself about online versus in-person will predict how well that university will emerge from the pandemic.

Laura Howard on foster care improvements and remaining work

Kansas Reflector, Aug. 9, 2021

What comes through most pointedly during Laura Howard’s conversation with editor in chief Sherman Smith is that the secretary of the Department for Children and Families knows the details of seemingly every program that is under her jurisdiction. She speaks in detail about so many different agencies, sub-agencies and programs along with the attention that each demands at this moment.

One metric to watch — both for the child welfare in the foster care system and for the sake of meeting a federal standard — is how many homes does a foster child live in during 1,000 days? While that metric began at a dismal 9.9 placements per thousand days, it has decreased to 5.1, which is much closer to the federal benchmark of 4.4.

First Electricity, Now Internet: Rural Areas Struggle To Gain Infrastructure

Harvest Public Media, Aug. 9, 2021

According to this report by Seth Bodine, the total price tag for bringing Internet to every home in America would be around $80 billion. (That is actually an encouraging number when you hear that the infrastructure bill just passed in Congress allocates $65 billion to internet accessibility.) Tom Wheeler, the former chairman of the FCC, thinks the correct approach is to build rural internet access all at once, drawing a confusing parallel to how we pave roads.

WAJEcast – Episode 1

WAJE, Aug. 2, 2021

A quick shout out here to journalism educators from Wichita who produced their first episode by interviewing Chance Swain of the Wichita Eagle. When Chance was a student journalist at Wichita State University, he led reporting and wrote editorials that drew the ire of administrators, making him a strong choice for a podcast aimed at student journalists.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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