January 19, 2022 

What does Travis Goff’s tenure as AD mean for Kansas women’s basketball?

Progress ahead of the Sunflower Showdown

Colleges and universities are steeped in history and tradition. Sports impact that history and the culture of campuses and communities. Some of the greatest athletes of their time competed at the University of Kansas (KU), such as Gale Sayers, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Mills and Danny Manning. Dr. James Naismith, who wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the basketball program at KU, called Lawrence home until his death in 1939. But even with a rich history and decades of success, recent controversies and public relations blunders left a cloud over KU in 2021.

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Enter Travis Goff, a Kansas alumnus and the person tasked with resetting the culture of KU Athletics. Hired in April 2021 at the age of 41 after successful stints at Northwestern and Tulane, Goff is one of the youngest athletic directors in the country today. His initial assignment as a first-time Power Five athletic director was not a small one – hiring a football coach, a decision he knew would set the tone for everything moving forward.

“One of the recognitions I had early on was that it was going to be important to develop trust and real relationships,” Goff told The Next. “I also knew that the football hire would make a strong statement to the department around what I want in our leaders here [at KU], the types of people of character and integrity.  Lance [Leipold] hits those marks at such a high level and it would be added value in terms of the broader statement to the department.”

Football is the driving force on almost every campus in college athletics, a reality not lost on Goff. Lack of success and turnover at KU, along with controversies, has been a drain on everything associated with his new department.

“Coming off the difficult times the department had gone through, I was pleasantly surprised how committed and bought in everyone was and the quality and depth of the people here. This is a department that believes in the impact it has and cares for the student-athletes.  The people reflected that; they just needed some moral boosting, culture-building and some strategic direction coming off a challenging stretch,” Goff reflected. 

Kansas Director of Athletics Travis Goff greets Jayhawk football players after the first win of the 2021 season over South Dakota.
(Photo credit: Kansas Athletics)

As his first fall as AD began, Goff immersed himself in understanding the vision and direction of all the programs, especially KU’s women’s sports. It did not take long to see that programs like volleyball and women’s soccer can be leaders in their sport in the Midwest region and beyond. But even after just a few months of leading KU Athletics, Goff does not shy away from setting expectations.

“We aspire for and expect broad-based success for all of our programs. We have the opportunity to build upon the success of some of our women’s programs to elevate them to elite status. For those programs that have had a tougher time over the past years there is definitely opportunity at Kansas.”

Jayhawk women’s basketball has a long tradition of success.  Hall of Fame coach Marian Washington arrived at KU in 1973 and guided the women’s basketball program for 31 seasons, amassing 560 wins. Winning conference titles was the norm and talent flocked to Lawrence from across the country. Four of Washington’s former stars grace the rafters of historic Allen Fieldhouse with retired jerseys: Lynette Woodward, Angela Aycock, Tamecka Dixon and Adrian Mitchell. But a lack of sustained success has put the program near the bottom of the Big 12 for many years, with the last trip to the NCAA tournament coming in 2013.  

Head coach Brandon Schneider is in his seventh season at KU, coming into the year with a record of 61-115. This year’s squad is improved, more athletic and could finish higher than last in the Big 12 (their pre-season pick.) They sprinted to a 9-1 record in the non-conference, but then encountered COVID protocols and postponements after the holidays.  

Goff stresses that his evaluation of women’s basketball begins with spending his time now observing the program, understanding the program-building philosophy of Schneider and what are some barriers they encounter. “I don’t put clear benchmarks so to speak in place and Brandon knows that. We have had good, honest conversations. I am excited to be around his program and understand the recruiting philosophy as we go forward,” he said.  

After a strong non-conference slate, KU has started Big 12 play 2-2 and is looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. (Photo credit: Damon Young, Kansas Athletics)

The Jayhawks are 2-2 in Big 12 play including a gutsy overtime win at #15 Texas (70-66), their first road victory over a ranked conference opponent since 2012. On Jan. 16, they had a four-point lead with under a minute to play but could not hold off #15 Baylor, losing a heartbreaker at home 82-79.  

“Coming off the good road win [at Texas] what does that mean?  That means this is a group that is developing in confidence and gelling at a critical time,” Goff said. “It indicates that there’s been some individual development within the roster, and you look at the totality of it but also are each of them individually growing and developing their potential.”

Every AD knows there are no nights off in Big 12 women’s basketball and it is competitive game in and game out. It does create an environment where schools can use others in the league as a measuring tool. Next up for KU is the first installment of the “Sunflower Showdown”, a road test at in-state rival Kansas State on Jan. 19.

“It’s great to see the success they are having in Manhattan. I think it is good for the state, for the Big 12 and quite honestly, it’s good for KU,” said Goff. “When you talk about KU/K-State wanting to embrace a rivalry and us [KU] looking at K-State as an opportunity to elevate our program, I am glad we are seeing their success in women’s basketball.”

As the grind of winter blends into spring, Goff and his staff will continue their strategic planning process at KU. They are engaging an array of constituencies to inform them as to where they want to broadly go as an athletic department. A fellow AD was quoted when Goff was hired as saying ‘he represents a new era in leadership as we modernize the collegiate model’. What does that mean to Goff personally? A multitude of things.

“There needs to be a new and fresh perspective at this juncture of intercollegiate athletics.  I have diverse experience, coming back to a public institution after spending 17 years at private schools which gives me a unique experience. Having been in more urban environments like New Orleans and Chicago adds a layer of unique perspectives. Also, having been in the Big Ten and other leagues, that has helped shape the vision I want to create at KU. There is also a responsibility as an AD at this level in understanding and embracing the job to usher in the new change of college athletics.”

Goff celebrates with the KU volleyball team after their 2021 NCAA Tournament victory over Creighton. (Photo credit: Kansas Athletics)

Change has been abundant since last April for the Goff family. He and his wife, Nancy, have three small children and after some time living in two cities, everyone moved from Chicago to Lawrence. They now have a strong extended family support system close by and are grateful their new community has embraced them. Even in times of uncertainty and in a business where things move at a rapid pace, Goff’s approach to this job at this level seems quite simple.

“There are tendencies to overcomplicate any environment and in college athletics there’s a widespread common theme of overcomplicating what we do and why we do it. For me I have leaned more on instincts and experiences and a little bit of my gut to guide me.”

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a retired Kansas State shooting guard and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, Locked on Women's Basketball podcast host, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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