Following a particularly embarrassing week for the Kansas University athletic department, in which police responded to multiple incidents involving fighting between members of the school’s football and men’s basketball teams, KU athletic director Lew Perkins has found himself in the middle of a national story that has placed a harsh light on an otherwise promising sports season.
Speaking with members of the media prior to Saturday’s football game against Southern Mississippi at Memorial Stadium, Perkins shed little light on the details of the past week but insisted it was a matter being handled with the utmost importance.
“I’ve been doing college athletic administration for over 40 years,” Perkins said, “and I’ve never experienced anything like this.
“This might be the most complicated thing I’ve ever dealt with in my whole life,” he added. “There’s all kinds of different issues involved, all kinds of different people involved, and every time we kind of get where we are, another thing pops up.”
No disciplinary measures
As of Saturday, no players had been publicly disciplined for their roles in the fights, despite witness accounts that multiple football and basketball players had thrown punches during a Wednesday morning scuffle outside Wescoe Hall on the KU campus. The night before, police had been called to the Burge Union, where another fight had broken out because of a dispute between a basketball and football player over a woman. The Tuesday night fight left Tyshawn Taylor, a starting guard for the basketball team, with a dislocated left thumb that could sideline him for up to four weeks.
Kansas football coach Mark Mangino, who has already held standout receiver Dezmon Briscoe out of one game this season, said Wednesday he hadn’t been presented with information that would warrant suspensions, while men’s basketball coach Bill Self indicated the following day that any disciplinary measures involving his players would be handled internally.
Perkins said Saturday that he’s always allowed coaches to handle disciplinary issues on their own — but, he added, he wouldn’t hesitate to step in if he thought the situation warranted it.
“I’ve always had a policy that I’ve allowed our coaches to handle discipline the way they want to with their teams,” Perkins said. “Now, if it would ever escalate, or anything should escalate over and above what I would think coaches should be doing, then I would want to step in and deal with it. We’re still gathering information, to be honest with you. We have to be very very careful with what we say and what we can’t say and what we know and what we don’t know, because if we’re wrong for one reason or another — not that we’re afraid of lawsuits, but we don’t necessarily want lawsuits.”
He also said he understood if at some point the university would elect to issue discipline in the matter.
Perkins also addressed reports that a feud between the school’s football and basketball teams had been festering for some time. Both Self and Mangino said this week they don’t believe this to be the case, though a former football player on Wednesday told the Journal-World that issues between the university’s two major programs have been evident in recent years, including an incident last year that began at a local bar and resumed at Jayhawker Towers, where many of the school’s athletes reside.
“There’s been some discussion that maybe this has been going on for a long time,” he said. “I’m quite honest as I am always: We did not know if it was factual, if it was, in fact, going on. And I honestly wish if some people knew, I wish they would have come told us so we could have dealt with it. … Right now, I would ask them to come talk to us.”
‘Really an embarrassment’
At the moment, Perkins is working with university and law enforcement officials to piece together the particulars of the week’s events, though he admitted specifics might never be pinned down.
“Will I ever know what the total story is? I don’t think anybody will, the police, (anybody),” Perkins said. “I don’t think the kids know. You talk to one kid that was there, you talk to another kid that was there, and you maybe get something similar, but it’s not all similar. I think it happened so quickly, it happened so spontaneously, that it just got out of hand.”
One thing was made clear at a Wednesday afternoon meeting between Perkins and the football and basketball teams: Perkins will not tolerate any future fights between the two squads.
“I made a deal with the kids, what we say in here will stay here,” Perkins said of the meeting. “There was no mistaking what I said, no mistake where I was coming from. I’m 64 years old. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. I can honestly say I was about as mad as I’ve been in a long time, and embarrassed, and told them that.”
He used the word “embarrassed” several times in his 20-minute chat with the media.
“I think it’s been said over and over: This is really an embarrassment to our university, to our athletic program. I’ve been doing athletic administration for over 40 years, and I’ve never experienced something like this. I was very, very embarrassed and very hurt by it, too. I think it was a black eye on our athletic program, a black eye on our football and basketball teams, a black eye on our university and the state of Kansas. We just can’t have that kind of stuff happen.”