It’s often said and rightly so that an athletic department is the front porch to a university. It’s what forms a first impression for the masses. It triggers the most emotional responses.
In a sense, the athletic department is the style of a university, and it never can become more important than the substance. Similarly, the games played by a university’s teams serve as the front porch, the style, of an athletic department. The games form a first impression for the masses. They trigger the most emotional responses. And they never can become more important than the substance, which is integrity.
That’s why the ticket scandal at KU might not hurt at the moment as much as the No. 1-ranked basketball team’s loss to Northern Iowa, but it has the potential to cut way, way deeper.
Depending on what various investigations, including one conducted by the FBI, uncover, this scandal has the potential to violate thoroughly the trust customers of Kansas athletics have in their athletic department. Once violated, it’s difficult to recover.
The one arrow the athletic department always had in its quiver to use against those who fretted about the points system was that it was fair, based on those donating the most money getting the best tickets.
Now, with so many ticket brokers being subpoenaed, donors are left wondering why seats were sold to brokers, where the money ended up and who knew it was happening? Dishonesty regarding tickets to games easily trumps other disappointments in what has been a tough year in a lot of ways for Kansas athletics.
The on-campus fights on consecutive days smack dab in the middle of the football season pitting football players against basketball players brought the school embarrassment on a national scale.
The football team’s season-ending, seven-game losing streak, which featured popular head coach Mark Mangino walking the plank very publicly in the last few weeks of it while some former players went public with unflattering stories about his coaching style, brought negative publicity and resulted in a $3 million buyout for the coach.
The women’s basketball team, in part because of injuries, fell far short of expectations and again was not invited to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gridiron Club, still officially but not realistically on course to open in 2010, so badly missed the mark in terms of pricing that if it does eventually come to fruition, it will be a scaled-down version of the original model.
All those disappointments pale in comparison to the ticket mess, which athletic director Lew Perkins must clean up with transparency and a quick trigger finger for anyone involved. Perkins, whose retention bonus he was paid in 2009 routinely has been reported in after-taxes terms, earned $4.4 million before taxes in 2009, according to a published report. His pay will be back under $1 million in 2010, and to earn it, he’ll need to find a way to fix the points system and sever ties with any disloyal employee responsible for eroding the trust the public has in his department. Just two years after an Orange Bowl victory and national championship in basketball, the front porch is in need of repairs.