Employees diverting tickets for personal gain, his department missing out on more than $1 million in revenue, his personnel policies called into question and, now, questions surfacing about his free use of rehabilitation equipment in his Lake Alvamar home, equipment now part of a reported case of blackmail.
Throughout it all, Lew Perkins is confident he’ll weather the storm that continues to build around him as Kansas University’s athletics director.
“I’m the victim here,” Perkins said Tuesday, about the weekend disclosure that he’d reported being a victim of blackmail to Lawrence police. “If I felt like I did something wrong, would I have turned it over to the police? Why would I do it? Why would I turn it in?”
During a break from Big 12 Conference meetings in Kansas City, Mo., Perkins declined to discuss details of the case but acknowledged that fans, KU supporters and others likely had been growing frustrated by the ongoing flow of bad news out of Kansas Athletics Inc.
That’s why he’s working so hard to get things fixed, he said.
“If I should be fired, that’s somebody else’s decision,” Perkins said. “I don’t think I’ve done anything to be fired for.”
Passing judgment on Perkins’ job performance falls to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who thus far has offered support for the athletics director she inherited from former Chancellor Robert Hemenway. She will be expected to discuss Perkins’ future with members of the Kansas Board of Regents by the end of this month, when they meet in Topeka, or perhaps even earlier.
“I’m very confident — very confident — in our chancellor to assess things and make that decision,” said Jill Docking, regents chairwoman. “That’s her job.”
In a statement, Docking said she would expect Gray-Little to provide a “comprehensive report outlining the steps she is taking to restore the trust that has been damaged by the deeply disturbing conduct” described in the university’s own internal investigation.
‘Trusting the chancellor’
Fellow Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt, a former state senator from Inman, said Gray-Little was to be lauded for taking a “facts first, then judgments” approach to the entire situation — both regarding the blackmail said to be orchestrated by a former Kansas Athletics employee and the ongoing ticket issue that KU investigated and that the U.S. attorney’s office remains engaged in.
KU’s own hired investigators say they expect the number of stolen tickets and amount of lost revenue to rise when federal agencies — including the FBI and IRS — complete their own investigations.
“I may be enlightened after we see the details, but at this point in time I’m inclined to say: There are a few people involved here who decided there was a shortcut, and that nobody would know, and that’s the part that needs to be investigated here,” Downey-Schmidt said. “I would be way, way early in making accusations about Lew Perkins’ involvement.
“I’m trusting the chancellor is spending a good deal of her days lately trying to figure that out.”
Gray-Little was in London on Tuesday, meeting with KU alumni and supporters.
Gary Sherrer, regents vice chairman and former Kansas lieutenant governor, said that calls for Perkins’ job came with the territory of being a high-profile leader.
“We all know he had detractors before all this started,” Sherrer said. “At the end of the day, what’s the best thing for the university? That’s the question the chancellor will have to ask, and that’s the question the regents will have to ask.”
Jerry Bailey, an associate professor of education, serves as Kansas Athletics’ faculty representative, a position that monitors the welfare of student athletes, compliance, NCAA legislation and other matters. He was in Kansas City with Perkins, attending conference meetings Tuesday.
Bailey, associate professor for educational leadership and policy studies, said that cleaning up “the mess” would take time.
“I think that it’s terribly embarrassing to the university that all this stuff has happened,” he said, from the conference meetings. “And I don’t think there are many people who are looking as forward to having it pass as I am. If there are people who need to be appropriately chastised by the law, I hope that happens.
“I am a supporter of Mr. Perkins. I do not believe that he, at least from my perspective at this time, that there’s any reason to think about him leaving his position. When you look at the big picture — where we were when he came, to the place where Kansas Athletics is now — there’s no question in my mind that he’s done an excellent job.”
Docking, chairwoman of the regents, said that educational leaders had “quite a bit to do” to address concerns raised by alumni and supporters of Kansas Athletics, especially as it relates to distribution of tickets.
She expects donors to receive more information about where they stand in the priority points system that’s used to determine who gets access to which seats and when, although she stops short of advocating for full public disclosure of the points list complete with names of donors, amounts of money contributed and resulting seat locations.
“I always think transparency is a good idea — then all these questions and gossiping and biting at each other goes away,” Docking said. “I’m always a believer in transparency.”