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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Seating plan would put donors closer to action

April 6, 2001

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Two men's varsity programs swimming and tennis became victims last month of the Kansas University athletics department's projected money woes.

The programs, whose rosters include about 50 student-athletes, will be discontinued as intercollegiate sports starting with the 2001-2002 season.

Three factors are at the root of Kansas University Athletic Corp.'s gloomy financial outlook:

l Scholarships Grant-in-aid costs have increased 39 percent during the past five years, and they'll rise another 8.2 percent next year.

l Commitment to gender equity KU has budgeted $4.6 million for its 11 women's varsity sports this fiscal year.

l Travel Since joining the Big 12 Conference, KU's travel budget has increased 115 percent.

This fiscal year's KUAC budget shows projected expenditures of $401,895 for men's swimming and $251,625 for men's tennis. In other words, KUAC will save about $650,000 by dropping the two sports.

However, KUAC won't save that much right away because it will stand by its scholarship commitments to the 36 student-athletes with grants in those two sports.

Just five other Big 12 schools have intercollegiate men's swimming programs and eight other league members have men's tennis.

Kansas will still provide 18 varsity sports 11 for women and seven for men. Because of football, KU still will have more males on scholarship than females, however.

With 18 teams, Kansas will rank seventh in the Big 12 Conference by number of varsity sports.

Kansas State and Colorado are ranked last with 16 each. With 24, Nebraska fields the most varsity teams.

With a $23 million budget, Kansas gives the maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA in each of its varsity sports.

KUAC is operating under a budget of just more than $23 million in fiscal year 2000-2001. KUAC projects a budget of about $5 million more than that five years from now, but with an income of only about $4 million more.

KU athletics director Bob Frederick said he favors a donor seating plan would make up for that shortfall and, in theory, provide a slight surplus.

He plans to start a donor seating plan for men's basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse as early as the 2002-2003 season.

In other words, seat location will be determined by the size of donations to the Williams Fund.

"We don't have a specific plan," Frederick said. "We'll be working on details during the next year. We project it would mean $1.5 million in extra revenue for the first year."

Pat Warren, associate director of external affairs, is in charge of devising a fair and equitable plan that would affect only the public not faculty, staff or students who have men's basketball tickets.

"We've looked at a number of institutions that have done it," Warren told the KUAC board. "There has been natural resistance, but it's an increasing reality."

Kansas State, Frederick noted, instituted a donor seating program for football two weeks ago. Also, he said, Arizona has done it for men's basketball and "it's been successful there."

Frederick made no secret of the fact that men's basketball is the athletic department's golden goose.

"Obviously, it's important for our men's basketball team to perform at a high level," he said. "In fact, our whole budget is based on that."

Still, not even the golden goose could prevent men's swimming and men's tennis from becoming dinosaurs.

Frederick hopes to initiate the seating plan in two years, but stressed that it definitely would have to be part of the budget in 2003-2004.

"We've come to a crossroads here, and we're not alone," Frederick said "This has become a national problem. Michigan, for example, had to borrow $5 million from its president's office last year.

"I know of at least five schools in the Big 12 that are going through this problem. The last 12 years we've finished in the black. I'm proud of that, but we didn't build enough cash reserves, at least not enough to deal with our problems."

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