Last year, Kansas University athletic department officials announced plans to build a “Gridiron Club” facility along the top of the east side of KU’s Memorial Stadium.
The club would provide deluxe seating for approximately 3,000 people who would pay from $30,000 to $105,000 per seat depending on the number of years they commit to. It would be premium seating with all types of extras and special parking on the east side of the stadium.
Athletics department officials even went so far as to ask Lawrence city officials to change the configuration of the intersection at 11th and Mississippi streets to make it easier for Gridiron Club members to get to their reserved parking spaces.
At the time of the announcement, Athletic Director Lew Perkins said he planned to commit $40 million from the club’s revenues to the university for academic needs. This $40 million would be paid over a period of time after the club was in operation.
The club was to be ready for the start of the 2010 football season, but for various reasons, the project seems dead — or on life support — at this time. Athletic officials said they would not start construction until something close to $34 million had been raised for the project.
A large sign promoting the project still hangs from the east side of the stadium, but there is no way a Gridiron Club will be in operation this season because pledges and contributions are far short of the $34-plus million mark.
In the meantime, a new super-duper scoreboard has been unveiled at the south end of the stadium. This $3.2 million fixture is supposed to increase fan enjoyment, act as an incentive for the players and probably impress recruits.
KU officials said funding for the $3.2 million video board was part of a five-year, $86 million extension to a multimedia deal between KU and IGM College. This extension takes the agreement between KU and IGM through the 2021-22 academic year.
There is no question that Perkins’ commitment of $40 million from the athletic department was made to show the department’s deep, genuine concern and interest in the university’s academic and research efforts. This, at a time when there has been growing concern among KU faculty and off-campus alumni and friends about the free-spending philosophy of the athletic department when the academic side of the school has been forced to tighten its financial belt.
This week, KU administrators, Interim Provost Danny Anderson and Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little asked members of the Kansas Board of Regents to OK an 8.2 percent increase in tuition and fees for Kansas residents who are undergraduates at KU.
The chancellor said this increase is needed because there has been a steady “de-investment” by state government in higher education since 1985 that has become more pronounced in the current budget crisis.
The “de-investment” should be a matter of great concern, but it also should trigger some serious thinking about why this has happened. Sure, the economy and available tax dollars are a major reason, but so is the inability of those serving as regents and those serving as chancellors and presidents at state universities, as well as the public, to promote the importance of proper fiscal support for the various schools.
In fact, the university and regents have done a poor, ineffective job. One of the top prerequisites for chancellors or presidents today is that they be articulate, effective and enthusiastic spokespeople for their respective schools.
This is an issue that should be of great concern to all Kansans.
But, getting back to the proposed tuition hikes …
KU officials claim the entire KU tuition and fees package will raise $11 million in new revenue, but not enough to make up recent budget cuts.
Here’s a chance for AD Perkins, his athletic department associates and members of the Kansas Athletics board to demonstrate their genuine concern and desire to help meet the needs of the academic side of the university.
The fancy scoreboard was made possible by part of a five-year, $86 million extension of a deal with the marketing and promotions firm IGM. The financial stability of the athletic department looks pretty good.
Perkins said he planned to commit $40 million to academic programs once his Gridiron Club was built, which was supposed to be by this fall.
Obviously his heart is in the right place, and his announcement, shortly after Gray-Little moved into her office, shows he wants to do what he can to help the school and help the chancellor.
So, if he could find $3.2 million out of the $86 million deal with IGM to fund a new scoreboard, why not go ahead and start to carry out his plan to provide $40 million, over the next five to 10 years, to the academic side of the school?
This would amount to either $8 million or $4 million a year to help KU soften the budget cuts. It might even be enough to make a slight cut in the tuition increase.
Such an action would serve as a giant public relations boost for the athletic department. It certainly needs some help considering how it spends millions when others at KU are asked to absorb cuts and, now, with the embarrassing ticket scam that has prompted FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents to investigate what goes on at Allen Fieldhouse under Perkins’ stewardship.
Why not seize this timely opportunity and make a financial commitment, starting immediately, that would reflect credit and general appreciation on the athletic department, help the university and gain positive national attention?