KU must rein in athletics

June 2, 2010


One might say that the past few weeks have not been the best for Kansas University. The report of the alleged theft of nearly 20,000 tickets by employees of Kansas Athletics over the past few years goes well beyond a minor problem. The fact that there are now federal investigations under way, investigations that most observers expect to result in criminal prosecution is a serious matter.

This kind of scandal cannot help either the athletics programs or the university as a whole. The media frenzy surrounding this sad affair has no doubt been worsened by the existing undercurrent of anger and resentment generated by other athletic department actions, including the redistribution of season tickets and the imposition of far higher ticket prices, a change that may have contributed to the current problems.

Certainly, the increasing belief by faculty and university staff that Kansas Athletics has been enjoying increased revenues accompanied by increased expenditures on salaries and facilities for athletics department staff, especially at the senior level, has not created a friendly atmosphere for Kansas Athletics.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the problems that have now emerged are symptoms rather than causes. Further, I think that there is little point in blaming all of these problems on Kansas Athletics. Instead, the problem at KU is the culture that allows athletics to completely dominate the campus.

There is great value in having winning teams. It gives the university national exposure and name recognition it might otherwise lack. There can be little question this is true for most people unconnected with the university who do not follow the scholarship and teaching that go on at KU. But for those of us who teach, do research, and manage KU, the fact is that we believe — and I think most of us hope that the chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents and the Legislature believe — that the primary mission of KU is to teach our students (most of whom are Kansans), do high level research that expands human knowledge, provide both economic and cultural benefits to the state of Kansas and provide services to the people of Kansas.

Our primary mission is not entertainment and, that, basically, is what the Kansas Athletics is about. That the entertainment mission has come to dominate the teaching, service and research missions of the university is nothing less than a travesty. That our students’ classrooms and laboratories come second to athletic facilities used by a small number of students is absurd. That assistant coaches often earn salaries significantly higher than our best teachers and scholars, higher than scientists searching to cure major human diseases, bespeaks a culture absolutely antithetical to the whole idea of a university.

Whatever happens in regard to the current athletics scandal, whatever increased audit and monitoring devices are put into place, they will not solve the far greater problem of the “athletics above all” culture now in place at KU. Only one person can change this: the chancellor. The chancellor needs to stand up for the university in its time of greatest vulnerability and not only speak out on the importance of teaching and learning here, but actually change the system to make it true.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World. Read his blog, “The Grumpy Professor” at www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/grumpy-professor/


anon1958 5 years, 6 months ago

"There is great value in having winning teams." This is a widely made assertion but is little more than an unwarranted assumption. The simple follow up statement made by Hoeflich "It gives the university national exposure and name recognition it might otherwise lack." is testament to how unimportant "winning teams" really are to the core mission of a university.

Hoeflich explains quite clearly the inanity of the current culture of sports above all else, but the University of Kansas is a reflection of society at large, not the other way around. The absurdity of college athletics is just a symptom of an insipid culture that is at its core anti-intellectual, fearful and selfish. The perverted sports culture of KU cannot be changed as long as society at large is enamored and bedazzled by celebrity and sports figures.

The people that are paying huge sums of money to be near the 50 yard line are desperate to fill their empty lives with the vicarious thrill of being "near" something perceived as famous. They are like children trying to form an exclusive clubhouse. As long as there are people that are very talented at filling their back accounts, but not so talented as bringing meaning and true satisfaction to their lives, huge sums of money will continue to be thrown at college athletics by "boosters" and other sad fools.

Until it stops raining money, I dont think there will be any chance of college sports regaining credibility.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

OR, maybe they are paying huge sums of money because the 50 yard line is a great place to watch a football game. Just a thought.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

furthermore, if they get great seats because of the huge amount of money they pay...I doubt they have any problem outside of football games meeting or being "famous".

Peter Macfarlane 5 years, 6 months ago

Bravo, Mike, for your fine words, even if they seem a little worn. We've heard them all too many times before and yet we see no improvement in the situation.

If you haven't noticed the financial disparity that exists between the academic and the athletic side of the university is a pretty accurate reflection of the values held by our culture. We prefer physical to intellectual entertainment. Sporting events are a lot more sexy and more attractive to advertisers wishing to sell.

Can you imagine CBS covering a major conference of one of our professional societies in the same manner that it covers sporting events?

Perhaps our higher education institutions have been onto something for years - it's easier to attract attention with sports than it is the latest scientific discovery. Remember, the level of discourse in this country is at an all-time low and this could be attributed to our preference for People magazine and the National Enquirer than other more intellectually demanding media.

4everahawk 5 years, 6 months ago

If anyone would take the time to check the salary (past and current) of athletic administration, they would see that a couple of years ago, some received RAISES that were higher than what some faculty make!! It is hard to believe that anyone, ANYONE, deserves a $50,000 to $80,000 raise in one year.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately, some people do tend to favor going to schools with better teams. So ironically, those better athletic programs could bring more money to the school (besides bringing money to the athletic program, etc)

jayhawker4real 5 years, 6 months ago

I believe there is great value in athletics as a student activity. Athletic pursuits have greatly enriched my life, as anyone with a passion for golf understands. However, athletics at the university level should be practised by student athletes for the love of the game and the University and the vast majority of the spectators should be other interested students.

It is time for the nations universities to follow the lead of the Ivy League and abandon athletic scholarships entirely. It is time for the other professional sports leagues to follow the example of Major League Baseball and bear the costs of developing great young talent themselves with minor leagues. If none of those goals can be achieved it is time to require using the enormous sums of money obtained through sale of television rights for college athletic events for nothing other than scholarships, research, faculty, and facilities dedicated to academics.

I won't be holding my breath.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

If we got rid of athletic scholarships though, a lot of people couldn't probably afford to go to college. : Just because some sporting events are corrupt doesn't mean we should punish all sports, because most of them produce fine students, as well.

avoice 5 years, 6 months ago

"That our students’ classrooms and laboratories come second to athletic facilities used by a small number of students is absurd."

This hits at the core of what is wrong with American values in general. Mike starts this paragraph by pointing out, correctly, that University athletics is entertainment. As are professional athletics. As a society, we focus the bulk of our resources (all resources, not just money) on various forms of entertainment. Other countries concentrate their resources on real education and real job development, at all levels. Not only do our universities load all the budget into athletics, but our k-12 school districts do the same.

By inflating the hype that physical fitness and athleticism are good for us, we've created a culture whereby athletic programs at all age levels dominate our educational system, at the expense of the real coursework that would add much more value to our economy overall. Time to put physical fitness for the masses back on the sandlot and pare back high school, college and professional athletics to a reasonable level of economic importance. Kids (and adults) should know that physical fitness can be achieved and maintained through everyday practices that come at little cost. And careers in engineering, chemistry, communications, etc. are far more valuable to our nation and the world than are careers in athletics.

2002 5 years, 6 months ago

Since academics are always clean; the system is always open to change; professors always produce and never pawn work off on graduate assistants; and since the academic side always pays for itself, I support the comments.

hoeflich 5 years, 6 months ago

I believe that you missed my point. I'm not claiming that there aren't faculty who behave inappropriately, but that doesn't change the point that universities are about education, research, and service and not entertainment. As to the academic side paying for itself; so far as I know, academic programs are supported by tuition, state funds, research funding, and endowment, not by the KUAA.

seriouscat 5 years, 6 months ago

This is a great opportunity for Grey-Little to show her leadership skills. I hope she is up to the task!

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

You guys are going to get what you want: a smaller KU with less support for athletics. You are going to get it when the Jayhawks are left out of the superconferences that loom on the horizon. Remind me how that is going to help KU or Lawrence.

Smaller athletics means less public interest in the school and fewer students. Why would dismantling the athletic program help KU? Do you really think donors would give money to the academic side if athletics were diminished? Come on. Everyone keeps ignoring the new engineering building that will be built with a mix of alumni donations and state dollars. Why can't we talk about any academic bright spots now? Why was every KU graduate last month so pround of their degree? That had nothing to do with successful teams or awesome tickets. It sounds the marketing and sales classes need some money right now if this is the new message from the KU faculty.

I loathe Lew Perkins and will be happy when he leaves, but it's curious to me why everyone is looking east to Princeton and the Ivy League for direction. Look west to Cal-Berkely. They have a strong academic profile and successful athletics at the same time. In fact, they are building a new football stadium and it does not seem to dampen their scholarly image. We do not need to go all in and smash our athletic programs. We just need a new direction and better leadership at the top.

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

How would the town adapt to a smaller KU? Put even less money into street repair? Lay off workers all over town? Watch homeless people move into the new empty buildings and apartments? Close schools all over town? Please, go into detail about how a smaller KU is good for Lawrence.

And, yes, watching Cal and the other PAC 10 schools adjust their school funding is important. There have been students marching all over the state trying to get money into education. Schools are struggling to keep their athletic and academic budgets out of the red. It is a tightrope in higher education in California, Kansas and all over the country. KU's adjustments in the immediate future are a key to its academic and athletic success. Decreasing the new AD's salary is a great place, yes?

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

Well...honestly without so many people IN Lawrence, we probably wouldn't need as much street repair. Most of the students don't pay taxes in Lawrence, so they are driving on the streets without helping repair them.

Why would other schools in town close? With a smaller KU, it would be a smaller town, possibly meaning less students and less of this overpopulation business?

Why would homeless people move into the newly evacuated buildings. They'd still have to pay rent...just because KU became smaller wouldn't condemn this place to a ghost town. Plus, wouldn't you rather see people in homes rather than homeless in the first place?

I'm just playing devils advocate. Sure, sales revenue might decrease, but then again there could be other perks to not having as many students around. Perhaps it would be a draw for some people to move here. Honestly, if I were thinking of moving here because of KU, I'd rethink it with all the current stuff going around...its such a mess. Perhaps calming down a little bit would draw more emphasis on education and less emphasis on big, corrupt athletics. It's not to say athletics wouldn't be important, but just chilled out a bit.

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

So, cutting KU athletics is the cure to Lawrence's ills? "Big sports" is the problem. Please explain. And what are the "real reasons" for Lawrence's problems. It is money, right? How we generate it and how we spend it. Fewer fans in the stands and fewer students will certainly expand the tax base and the revenue cycle. I am sure the money that KU athletic donors save will still go to the university and the community, right?

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

Thats not what he's saying, I don't think. Not too long ago, KU had a proud athletic program. We were good, but not "too" good...not "too" cocky...not "too" money hungry. People LOVED seeing KU sports, and there wasn't as much controversy and politics surrounding it. Just good fun and competition.

bendover61 5 years, 6 months ago

We can't fix our streets, the university can't maintain their buildings but the athletic department has no problem maintaining and improving their facilities. It is time that the money comes to the university and is dolled out to the athletic department. The amount of money in the athletic department has led to this corruption.

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

So dismantling the athletic department, dropping out of the major conferences, letting good coaches like Self leave and cutting athletic scholarships is the answer? Do you think alumni that funded the athletic improvements will do it on the academic side in the future? A lot of them already do give academic donations, but most of them don't and won't give money to the academic side. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but why do you think slashing up the athletic department will lead to an increase of academic funding?

The issue is the current AD. Let Lew go and things will improve. You cannot strip away the sports teams to nothing. That is not going to cut it with most of the alumni. I agree with you that there a lot of academic projects that need funding, but taking away athletics is not the answer. There is a balance and it will be found agin with a new AD.

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

If you think the University of Chicago is so great, why didn't you go there? Where's your beef man? You love KU so much, but you trash it at every opportunity. A ticket scandal is not a reason to demolish our sports programs. It is enough ammo to fire the AD, Lew Perkins.

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

OK, what do you for fun? Sports is bad. Music? Art? Outdoor recreation? Is religion just window dressing, too? Instead of commenting on KU athletics, should I yelling about the oil spill in the Gulf? How is talking about Lew Perkins and the future of KU Athletics allow my country from being "torn away from me?"

7texdude 5 years, 6 months ago

Insulting me does not answer the question.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

How do you KNOW that things would "improve" without Lew?

I don't think ANYONE is saying take away sports...people are (or were) proud of KU athletics. I wouldn't want to see that go away, but I would like to see it cool off a bit. No one is saying get rid of good coaches. Roy was a good coach for a long time, and this stuff wasn't going on. Sure, it's fun winning big, etc. etc...but it's also fun being proud of a team no matter what and having team spirit. My fear is we're becoming TOO big...like UNC, who I absolutely despise because they always seemed too good and too self-consumed.

whats_going_on 5 years, 6 months ago

curious, are you from Texas?

If so, this is all starting to make a lot more sense.

Robert Rauktis 5 years, 6 months ago

"In fact, they are building a new football stadium and it does not seem to dampen their scholarly image."

The old being located on a major earthquake fault might also have something to do with the necessity for new stadium.

jaywalker 5 years, 6 months ago

"That the entertainment mission has come to dominate the teaching, service and research missions of the university is nothing less than a travesty"

Excuse me, Mr. Hoeflich, but how is KU athletics "dominating" what you and your brethren are doing? I'm a proud alum; I'm proud of going to KU for all it encompasses and represents. I've read of great achievements made by the academic portion of KU; that's what happens when you achieve. Same goes for the sports program. What I've done with my life is directly related to my matriculation through Kansas.
I'm sorry if sports garners more attention than most things taught at ANY university, but the simple fact is that we haven't evolved to the point where simple, pressure-releasing pleasures have been overtaken by the salient points made in a first year law class yet; Lord knows there's not enough focus on the "law" in this country yet. Perhaps someday someone might write a book on the subject.
But the athletics program doesn't take a dime...not a single freakin' dime out of yours or anyone else's pocket on the faculty at KU; nor does it steal your limelight. This was just an opportunity for you to kvetch. You jumped at it. And it was cheap. Well done.

Hudson Luce 5 years, 6 months ago

I'm not sure that KU can or will do much of anything at all to "rein in athletics". Although "athletics" is composed of track and field events, swimming, golf, baseball, gymnastics and other sports where students get athletic scholarships, what most people are thinking about is basketball and football.

KUAA runs two semi-professional farm teams for the major leagues in basketball and football, and quite frankly, the players shouldn't be bothered with having to get academic degrees in irrelevant areas of study. They should have a two- or three-year pre-professional program in which they would get courses in exercise physiology and kinesiology, sports nutrition and medicine, courses in how to deal with attorneys and negotiate contracts, and courses in the strategy and tactics used in their respective games, as well as football/basketball practice, weight training, aerobics training, and the like; in other words, training germane to their careers as professional athletes. After the third year, no more classes, just practicum (football/basketball practice, weight training, aerobics training, and the like.

Also, after they graduate, the athletes would get a five-year full tuition and room and board scholarship in any field able to be redeemed at KU once they finished their professional athletic careers. It's time to end this sham of "student athletes" and to give them a proper education in areas and topics relevant and useful to them in their future careers.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

Capital Journal calling for Perkins resignation today.

Yes the feds have a lot of work to do before Lew Perkins can be cleared of all allegations with respect to many allegations which have surfaced:

  1. Player elgibility of current and former players? According to Dent.

  2. Ongoing ticket fraud/theft?

  3. How many gifts has Lew Perkins accepted?

  4. How does anyone know if all of the people stepping up on behalf of Perkins are concerned for their jobs or may well be implicated as well?

  5. What about preferential treatment for loaning of the equipment? I guess company financial records will need to be investigated.

  6. Does Dent being a disgruntled employee necessarily relieve the allegations of their validity?



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