Ben Kirtland, the man in charge of all fundraising for Kansas Athletics Inc., resigned Monday as an independent review continues into operations of the KU Ticket Office and Williams Educational Fund, and after federal law enforcement began looking into potential illegalities regarding ticket sales.
Athletics Director Lew Perkins announced the resignation in a statement Monday afternoon.
Kirtland had been the department’s associate athletics director for development, making him ultimately responsible for all fundraising activities within Kansas Athletics Inc.
Such efforts included operations of the Williams Fund, whose more than 4,200 members contributed about $15 million to the department last year. His responsibilities also included raising money for the Gridiron Club, an ongoing effort to raise $34 million to expand Kansas University’s football stadium, build an “Olympic village” for nonrevenue sports and contribute money for other university needs identified by the chancellor’s office.
Construction of the stadium expansion had been expected to be underway by now, and on track for opening this fall, but donations have fallen far short of expectations.
Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director and department spokesman, declined to discuss details of Kirtland’s departure, describing it as a personnel matter.
“Ben decided to resign,” he said. “It was initiated by him.”
Just last week, athletics officials told members of the Williams Fund that “no actions regarding personnel” or the fund itself were anticipated until a university-ordered independent review was complete. No timeline for the review’s completion has been set.
Early last month, Perkins placed Rodney Jones, assistant athletics director for the Williams Fund, on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons. Since then, the department has confirmed that the review involves tickets for athletics events.
Gary Sherrer, vice chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, has indicated that investigatory matters also involve law enforcement: “If somebody makes money and doesn’t report it on their taxes,” Sherrer said, “somebody at the federal level is going to get involved.”
Jones is a former director of the KU Ticket Office and, in his role with the Williams Fund, reported to Kirtland at Kansas Athletics. In February, the ticket office’s manager, Charlette Blubaugh, resigned to take a job as executive administrative assistant to the athletics director at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Kirtland’s fundraising responsibilities now are being handled temporarily by Sean Lester, another associate athletics director, whose regular responsibilities include Kansas Athletics’ internal operations, including its business and facilities departments.
“Sean brings assurance and financial accountability to the Williams Educational Fund,” Perkins said, in a statement. “He knows our donors and understands how the process works. Sean oversees the budget for Kansas Athletics and has a great understanding of both our needs, and current and future commitments. I appreciate his willingness to step into this temporary role and work with Jennifer Berquist to lead the Williams Fund.”
Kirtland joined the staff at Kansas Athletics in 2004, after spending four years as a private consultant, establishing the Dale Earnhardt Foundation and the Hockey Coaches Care Foundation. Before that, in 1998-2000, he was president of the V Foundation, in Cary N.C.; and before that he served as associate athletics director for development at the University of Connecticut.