Job One for Kansas University's new athletic director, whenever he or she is hired, will be to enhance revenue. Dollar procurement is the name of the college AD game.
Mostly, the new KU athletic director's focus will be filling the thousands of empty seats on fall football Saturdays at Memorial Stadium. To a lesser extent, the incoming AD will try to find some way to put more people in Allen Fieldhouse for women's basketball games.
Last season, Kansas led the Big 12 Conference by far in men's basketball attendance at 16,300 per game -- every one was sold out -- but KU ranked dead last in the league in women's basketball attendance at 1,248 fans per contest.
Putting it another way, when KU's women played at home, there were an average of 15,052 empty seats.
Only four of KU's 14 home women's basketball games drew crowds of 1,000 or more. Coach Marian Washington's women lured a low of 506 fans for the Oklahoma game Jan. 22 and a high of 5,318 for the Kansas State game Jan. 8. Notably, at least three-fourths of those fans were wearing purple.
Three straight losing seasons have caused KU women's basketball crowds to decline, although the slide hasn't been precipitous. Even when the KU women were winning -- Washington had 11 straight seasons of 20 or more wins before the current three-year slump -- they were averaging only about 2,500 fans a game.
KU's all-time women's attendance record occurred in 1999-2000 when All-American Lynn Pride and sweet-shooting Suzi Raymant were seniors. The average size of the crowd that season was 2,835.
Not until the early '90s, though, did the KU women even begin to attract crowds in four figures. For instance, in 1987-88 the KU men finished the regular season with a 21-11 record, while the women were a very similar 20-10, yet the men averaged 15,475 fans a game while the women averaged a mere 784.
Red ink flowing
Kansas isn't alone. Women's basketball is a red-ink proposition at just about every school in the Big 12 Conference.
Each Big 12 school spends between $1 million and $2.5 million to field a women's basketball team, but only one -- Texas Tech -- actually operates its program in the black, according to information published by the U.S. Dept. of Education.
Texas Tech spent $1,907,411 on its women's basketball program in 2001-2002 -- numbers for last season won't be available until mid-October -- and had revenues of $2,003,816.
No other league school came close to Texas Tech in women's basketball revenue. Iowa State was second at $1,157,866. Then there was Kansas, dead last in revenue at a paltry $79,023.
"It's a little misleading we're last in revenue," said Richard Konzem, the KU associate athletic director in charge of women's basketball, "because of our all-sports card."
KU's all-sports card, called The Big Blue Card, costs $75 ($60 for faculty and staff) and admits the bearer to all KU sports events except football and men's basketball. The card generates about $15,000 in revenue and isn't included in women's basketball ticket sales.
According to the Equity in Athletics report, Kansas generated $36,816 in women's basketball-ticket sales in 2001-2002. For 13 home dates, that's an average of about $2,800 a game and, according to Konzem, it costs "roughly $2,500" to open and staff Allen Fieldhouse on game days.
The remainder of KU's women's basketball income -- about $43,000 -- came from contributions and concessions.
Oklahoma bled red ink
Kansas spent $1,127,359 on its women's basketball program in 2001-2002, meaning KU had a deficit of $1,048,336 in the sport. But six other Big 12 schools had million-dollar deficits as well. Oklahoma, in fact, bathed in nearly $1.5 million of red ink that year despite winning the league championship and advancing to the NCAA title game.
Oklahoma averaged 6,607 fans a game in 2001-02, about half of Texas Tech's league-leading 12,545 per game. Texas Tech, with higher ticket prices, generated a little more than $2 million in revenue while Oklahoma listed its income as just $324,121.
Elsewhere, Nebraska and Texas A&M lost nearly $1.4 million on women's basketball in 2001-02, and Colorado $1.3 million. Kansas State and Missouri were close to the million-dollar plateau, each losing more than $950,000.
No Big 12 school spent more or lost more, however, than the largest public university in the country. Texas showed women's basketball expenses of $2,450,248 against revenue of only $575,431. That's a deficit of almost $1.9 million.
Salaries and scholarships are the primary money-drainers in all sports.
In 2001-02, Kansas spent $281,408 for women's basketball salaries and almost as much -- $271,722 -- for grants. Toss in $148,890 for travel, $81,429 for recruiting and $55,052 to hire officials, etc., and it all added up to nearly $1.13 million. With revenue of only about $79,000, KU was one of seven Big 12 schools to operate its women's basketball program with a million-dollar deficit.
Moreover, Big 12 Conference women's basketball red ink could be even deeper for the 2002-2003 season because attendance declined at eight of the 12 schools, according to figures supplied by the conference office. Even Texas Tech was down -- from 12,545 to 12,204 per game.
Kansas State had the biggest attendance increase and it was modest -- a climb from 8,158 in 2001-02 to 8,753 last season.
Kansas State and Texas Tech, incidentally, were the only Big 12 schools whose women's teams outdrew their men's teams. Tech's men averaged 9,962 fans a game last season; Kansas State's men 7,157.
Not than any of these numbers are based on a common denominator.
"One school I know charges all its guarantees and game-day operations to its administration rather than its athletic department," Susan Wachter, KU's chief athletics financial officer, said. "And a lot of the worksheets that have to be submitted for the Equity Disclosure Act are not public information."
Christy Scott of Kansas State's financial office agreed that the numbers can be skewed in any number of ways.
"It's confusing," Scott said. "Nobody compares consistently. You never compare apples against apples."
One thing is clear, though. Not even tradition-rich Texas Tech is selling out its handsome 15,050-seat United Spirit Arena, and the other Big 12 women's teams aren't even coming close. They're hemorrhaging money in the name of gender equity.