The departure of Nebraska to the Big Ten Conference and Colorado to the Pac-10, along with the possibility of a number of Texas and Oklahoma schools bolting the Big 12 for the Pac-10 conference, leaves Kansas University in an extremely weak and vulnerable position.
Longtime, loyal, generous and helpful KU fans have every right to know how and why KU has ended up in such an embarrassing and exposed situation. They all are major investors in KU.
They want some answers, not self-serving explanations from the athletic director, his lackeys and the chancellor.
Some of the questions include:
• Who at KU fell asleep at the switch? Who allowed KU to be a school on the outside looking in with the other conference schools determining KU’s fate?
• Why hasn’t KU been looking out and planning for the university, taking the initiative and protecting the schools’ future?
• KU officials must have known there was going to be movement within the Big 12 and other athletic conferences. Why wasn’t KU prepared to be ahead of the game rather than being caught in such a weak position with university and elected officials trying to get other conference schools to help them out?
• Soon-to-retire Athletic Director Lew Perkins owes the state and KU alumni and friends an explanation of how and why KU has been placed in such a vulnerable position. Was the conference breakup another “curve ball” missed by Perkins? Why hasn’t the reportedly highest paid AD in the country had a press conference? He should have daily reports to the people of Kansas. He needs to do the speaking rather than telling his hired help to make face-saving statements.
• What is KU planning for its future athletic programs? It’s a certainty the musical chairs game involving various schools in various conferences is not over; there will be further movement. How does this impact KU? What are KU’s options? Does it have a plan?
As one observer has noted, “The proverbial 900-pound gorilla is here. It’s in our living room right now.” What are we going to do about it? Said in a different way, the horse is out of the barn. Now a 12-stall barn is about empty. What do Perkins and (Chancellor Bernadette) Gray-Little intend to do to fill the empty stalls and find the revenue to pay expenses of the barn? How will the barn’s athletic debt be paid off with far fewer quality race horses in the barn?”
It is wrong for people in the KU athletic department to say or act as if they didn’t know this was a strong possibility. They did, or they sure as hell should have known if they are as good as they keep telling us and as good as their huge salaries and huge staff would indicate.
We were and continue to be blind and ineffective in the AD’s office as well as in the chancellor’s office. It’s a sad, sad state of affairs that will impact the entire university in many ways.
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These are very bad, extremely dangerous and embarrassing days for KU.
In past years, KU was looked upon as a leader and star in the former Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight conference alignments. Even in the early years of the Big 12 conference, KU was a leading institution.
KU enjoyed the respect and admiration of all of the conference schools. Its leaders were looked upon as powerful, effective spokespeople for KU, as well as for the entire higher education field.
KU was a leader. It was one of the first universities, if not the first, in the former conferences to become a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities. The KU Endowment Association was the leader and looked to as the model for other schools to emulate. The athletic program was sound, with KU basketball teams regularly winning league and national titles. The football team made occasional appearances in post-season bowl games. KU was one of the first universities in this part of the country to start area studies programs for Central and South America, Eastern Europe and Asia.
KU was a leader in every respect.
My, how times have changed.
Growing numbers of loyal KU supporters are asking how and why KU has slipped so far.
The current firestorm over whether the Big 12 conference will disintegrate, leaving KU on the sidelines, has caused alumni and friends, many of whom seem to have had no awareness or concern for what has been going on at KU, to suddenly wake up to the fact that things are not right on Mount Oread.
Nebraska and Colorado already are on their way out of the Big 12. If other reports are accurate, the Big 12’s Texas and Oklahoma schools may be moving to the Pac-10 conference. So far, Missouri, which had thought it was the top choice of the Big Ten, has been left dangling in the wind. Consider the impact of the conference’s breakup on Kansas City if Big 12 schools do not highlight football games in Arrowhead Stadium and post-season basketball games are not played at the Sprint Center.
Former Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Gray-Little and Perkins have let leaders at the other conference schools decide their fate. It didn’t have to happen, and serious finger-pointing is under way. If KU is left on the sidelines, perhaps along with Iowa State, Kansas State and Missouri, there will be many costly consequences.
Granted, the civil war among the athletic conferences currently focuses on the athletic programs at the schools, but the fallout from this self-inflicted injury will affect the entire KU operation:
• The school will try to find an affiliation with another conference, but will this new association have the same academic environment as the current Big 12? Not likely!
• Private fiscal support will shrink.
• Outstanding faculty members are likely to be more receptive to offers from other schools.
• Enrollment numbers probably will drop.
• School spirit and interconference rivalries will be a thing of the past.
• With KU in a lesser conference, it will be much more difficult for KU coaches to recruit top high school athletes.
• High-profile coaches such as KU basketball coach Bill Self are likely to move to other schools or professional teams, where they would have more opportunities to maintain their high exposure and huge salaries and test their skills against other nationally ranked teams.
• Lawrence will suffer in many ways with KU out of a strong Big 12 conference.
Sports, like it or not, often serve as a front porch of a university in that many individuals develop their first relationship with a university through its sports programs. In KU’s case, its long-standing successful basketball program has attracted thousands of fans and donors who eventually became much larger donors for academic programs. Young fans often turn into ardent, enthusiastic students on Mount Oread.
Records show that after KU teams have played in a national championship game or made a major bowl appearance, enrollment increases, as does private giving to the school.
All of this impacts Lawrence and the entire state, not just KU.
Why has this happened? Why wasn’t Gray-Little at the conference meetings in Kansas City? There’s the old saying, “If you’re not at the table, you are on the menu.” This is what happened at the long-planned conference gathering.
The chancellor can try to telephone other conference presidents and chancellors and plead her case, but she would have been far more effective sitting at the same table, talking face-to-face with her counterparts. Knowing well ahead of time about the Big 12 meetings, could she have postponed her trip to England?
How much did she know about the conference alignment matter and when was she told how serious it was? Why didn’t her close advisers and associates in the chancellor’s office alert her to the matter and bring her up to speed on what needed to be done to keep KU in a strong position?
Once again, where was the Kansas Board of Regents and its CEO? Did they realize the significance of what might happen to KU and Kansas State if the conference fell apart? It continues to be a puzzle what the regents do other than look at budgets. Shouldn’t they be far more aware of and concerned about what goes on at the schools they are supposed to oversee?
Why haven’t some of the so-called “big cigars,” the big donors, who are so quick to claim they are “insiders” at the athletic department, or the university as a whole, speak up about the weak and dangerous situation at KU?
How about those who talk out of both sides of their mouths here in Lawrence, as well as elsewhere? They publicly are so supportive of the highly touted Perkins and Gray-Little but privately are quick to find fault with the two leaders. Why haven’t they had the courage to demand better leadership?
In the end, it’s a matter of leadership or, more accurately, the lack of leadership, at KU and the arrogance of those in the athletic department. Part of the reason few, if any, within the athletic department are willing to speak up is that they are afraid of Perkins. They know he has a violent temper, perhaps equal to or worse than, the much-criticized temper of former KU football coach Mark Mangino. They fear losing their jobs if they go public with this criticism.
KU coaches do not want to speak up because Perkins has been their sugar daddy, providing their huge salaries and much-improved facilities.
The resignation by Perkins probably came as a big surprise to many. However, it isn’t too surprising that he selected a date for his departure that probably will qualify him for a $600,000 bonus payment. Money is what counts with Perkins. However, the resignation does give the relatively new and untested Gray-Little an opportunity to take command of the athletic department and demand that Perkins perform in a manner that shows class and effectiveness. Gray-Little could, and perhaps should, have called for his resignation now and demonstrated who is running the university. He’s a lame-duck AD, and it’s doubtful he will give his full attention to the critical situation facing the school. And he’s not likely to enjoy the same respect from other ADs or chancellors.
A lot of the present problems are rooted in the freedom Hemenway gave to Perkins. Hemenway saw himself as a highly knowledgeable and nationally recognized authority on intercollegiate sports. He once held a high NCAA position. Frankly, he didn’t display this talent in his handling of his athletic director. Now, the entire school may be paying a very costly price for Hemenway’s lack of oversight, discipline and control of Perkins.
This offers another example of the consequences of the Board of Regents not carrying out its responsibility to monitor the performance of the chancellor.
It’s a very sad story, one that didn’t have to unfold in the manner it did.
Again, it’s a lack of leadership, vision, commitment and ability to build KU into an even greater state-aided university. The assets have been present, but leaders have failed to take advantage of these opportunities.
Unfortunately, today’s KU leaders don’t enjoy the respect as their counterparts in the pre-Hemenway years. They do not play the leadership roles their predecessors enjoyed among conference schools and at the national level. It is clear KU has not been a major player in what used to be the Big 12.
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Whether or not listeners or viewers agreed with all of the facts and reasons presented Friday afternoon by Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletic Director Tom Osborne in asking the school’s board of regents for approval to seek membership in the Big Ten conference, the fact is they did a professional job in stating their case.
They said their first priority and first loyalty was to Nebraska students, athletes, faculty and the state. They said their responsibility is to do what was in the best interests of the school.
They said they were aware the level of solidarity among Big 12 schools was very fragile and that numerous schools were investigating affiliations with other conferences. Consequently, they decided to initiate a possible tie with the Big Ten to see whether it would be a good fit and beneficial for Nebraska, rather than to sit and let other schools decide their fate.
Consider the Nebraska approach compared to the dumb, disorganized, wait-and-see strategy of KU!