Fourteen years is a long time to serve as an athletics director at an NCAA Division I university. The average tenure of an athletics director in major athletics conference schools is much shorter.
Thursday morning, Bob Frederick announced his decision to step aside as Kansas University's athletics director. He accepted this job in May 1987, and during the last 14 years, he has conducted himself in a manner that has reflected credit on the university, its athletics department and on the state of Kansas.
He has run a clean program, and in today's intercollegiate world, this is a major accomplishment. He is known and respected for his honesty and integrity, and he does not speak out of both sides of his mouth.
He also has served as a true athletics director. He has not merely held the title while decisions and policies were made elsewhere on campus. Such a phony situation occurs with surprising frequency around the country. He has conferred, when appropriate, with the two chancellors under whom he has served, Gene Budig and Robert Hemenway, but Frederick has been in charge of the department, made decisions and run the organization as he thought best.
Frederick has all the qualities a university should be looking for in an athletics director: He is interested in the academic success of the student athletes; he has numerous academic degrees; he has been a coach; he behaves in a manner that reflects credit on the school and the state; and he is respected by his peers.
So why would an individual such as Frederick resign? If he is as good as outlined above, why wouldn't a university want to hold onto him?
Frederick realized there was growing unrest concerning the general health of the athletics department, with many people critical of the manner in which he ran the show. Chancellor Hemenway was receiving increased complaints about the department, blaming Frederick for many of the problems, with emphasis on the poor record of the KU football team. For some time, these complaints were directed primarily at the athletics department, but in recent months, more people questioned whether the school's administration was sufficiently committed to excellence in KU's athletics programs. These individuals pointed out the low standing of the overall KU sports program within the Big 12 Conference in the last three or four years and asked whether this signaled that Frederick's hands were tied and he was not allowed to take corrective actions in many areas.
And there is the "Kansas State situation." KU fans were getting tired and frustrated about the Jayhawks not fielding a truly competitive football team. A growing number of KU supporters have expressed their concern that KSU and its leaders were doing a far better job than KU of generating support and interest around the state not just in athletics but in the overall impression of the two schools and their level of importance to the state. Many would say this is an unfair and narrowly focused observation, that it is wrong to base the popularity of the school on performance by the athletics teams. But who said there was anything "fair" or "objective" about sports and sports fans?
Frederick and the athletics department got caught in a severe money crunch. It is easy to point fingers and say who was to blame for the financial situation, but the fact is, there are only two sports at KU football and basketball that produce revenues to fund all of the sports programs. And football revenues have been low. In fact, football at KU has lost money in recent years. All the other sports lose money, and the requirement to have a certain number of intercollegiate sports for women's teams adds to the financial pressures. Women's basketball, for example, costs about $1.1 million a year, and men's basketball costs about $1.8 million. Men's basketball takes in revenues of about $4.6 million a year while women's basketball loses a great deal of money.
A winning football team translates into increased ticket sales and TV revenue and added private fiscal support. The football program at KU costs about $4.5 million a year, and revenues have not covered expenses in recent years.
Frederick, directed to put the athletic program on a five-year business plan, decided to eliminate the men's swimming and men's tennis programs, and this action generated a great deal of negative publicity. The same thing is happening at other schools, however, with Nebraska cutting its men's swimming program, Iowa State eliminating its baseball team, and other schools that pack their football stadiums being forced to eliminate many men's programs.
One has to wonder about the future of intercollegiate sports and whether an increasing number of sports will become "club" sports rather than official team sports with athletes on scholarship.
Again, Frederick has represented the school well, although at times it seems he was uncomfortable in his AD role and the activities and responsibilities of the job. By nature, he is not an extroverted, back-slapping sort of person. Likewise he does not shine as a money-raiser, but KU's Williams Fund has been very successful in this effort.
The KU intercollegiate sports program has been run in a clean manner even though such a policy may have placed KU at a disadvantage when competing with some other schools. Frederick was committed to the true student-athlete model and directed various coaches to follow this policy.
Some will be happy about Frederick's decision to resign from the AD position, but many of these individuals also have appreciation for the way Frederick has represented the university in an increasingly difficult environment. There are far more positives about Frederick than negatives, but in the intercollegiate sports arena, winning is what is important and, in particular, fielding a winning football team to help pay the bills.
It will be interesting to see the makeup of the selection committee to screen and recommend athletics director candidates to the chancellor. Hemenway will make the selection with the athletic board being mostly cosmetic, with little muscle or genuine importance.
Frederick was loyal and committed to KU. His decision to resign was, to a large degree, to prevent any negative feelings about him or the athletics department from harming the overall university community. He behaved in a classy manner, and Hemenway did likewise by taking advantage of what Frederick now will contribute as a member of the KU faculty.