KU ticket scandal puts focus on out-of-control athletics

A growing number of people have been concerned, angered and frustrated about the Kansas University athletic department scene for some time.

Years ago, a group of alumni were concerned that the athletic director, the late Bob Frederick, was not as forceful and assertive as he should be. These individuals also thought Frederick was too tied to the basketball program and didn’t do enough to improve the football program, although he always conducted himself in a manner that reflected credit on the university.

Next came Al Bohl. Although he made a good hire in former football coach Mark Mangino, he had major differences with KU basketball coach Roy Williams. After Williams left for North Carolina, Bohl did not last long as AD.

Drue Jennings of Kansas City was a temporary fill-in, and his chief achievement was the hiring of KU basketball coach Bill Self, although he really didn’t have much to do with this because Self had been seeking the KU position for some time.

There were problems during the tenures of these three most recent AD’s but nothing too serious. Frederick was known and respected for a clean program.

Along came Lew Perkins and, almost immediately, there was a major change in the athletics department.

The size of the department staff has ballooned and the payroll escalated. Perkins became one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid, athletic directors in the country, and he initiated a ticket plan that supposedly was tied to how much money an individual gave to a scholarship fund operated by Kansas Athletics. Also, he has made major improvements in the department’s physical plant and raised and spent millions of dollars.

During these years, Perkins appeared to have the freedom to run his program however he wished, without much control from the chancellor’s office. Former Chancellor Robert Hemenway seemed to give Perkins the green light to build his department into a powerful, money-raising machine with little concern or appreciation for the relationship with thousands of alumni who had been generous and influential in helping the university. He and his associates turned their backs on many people who, in turn, became angry and disillusioned with the school and Hemenway’s leadership.

The athletic department seemed to be operating independently, outside the university umbrella.

The dislike of Perkins grew like a slow cancer, and no one — not the chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents or a sufficient number of KU alumni and friends — had the courage to speak out and bring about some control or restraint of the large, powerful, well-funded athletic department.

At this time, there is no way of knowing how, or whether, the quiet new KU chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, will deal with the current ticket scam that finally has focused national attention on the embarrassing situation in Allen Fieldhouse.

A news report earlier this week added new details to an ongoing investigation of major irregularities in the department. It is interesting to note that the hurried-up KU press conference was scheduled only after a detailed report about the ticket scam appeared on the Yahoo website. At the press conference, officials acknowledged six people were involved in the scam, which could amount to $3 million.

It’s a huge embarrassment for the university. Loyal KU alumni and friends have thought something like this happens at other schools, but not at KU.

Well, it did happen, and a lot of people are trying to run from the scene, deny any knowledge of the mess, acting as if they didn’t have anything to do with this, or that it started before they moved into leadership positions at KU. It did happen, and it likely would have continued if the FBI and Internal Revenue Service had not entered the scene.

Given the money and egos involved, it shouldn’t be surprising that something like this happened. Those in high-paying positions of leadership should have been on top of it, but they weren’t. Perkins acknowledged things were going well and they were complacent. Maybe “arrogant” would be a better word.

It’s happened at KU, and there’s a chance the same thing could have been going on at other universities with high-profile basketball or football programs.

A number of actors are involved. The Yahoo report ties in two California brothers who oversee, fund or operate a number of summer league basketball programs. These brothers may have been recipients or participants in the KU ticket scam and some of their summer league players have ended up at KU.

Clearly the matter of successfully recruiting high profile high school basketball players is critical if a coach is to compile a winning record and improve the odds of making the NCAA’s Final Four or national championship game, which, in turn, brings more money to the schools and the coaches.

Unfortunately, high school coaches, who used to play a pivotal role in developing and advising their players, have lost this position to the AAU coaches who recruit the high schoolers to their summer teams. These coaches answer to no one.

When the true stars emerge in these AAU circles, the AAU coaches have gained a personal relationship with the players and their families, and college coaches are well aware of this special relationship. This is when money and/or favors can and do become involved, with the AAU coaches saying they can deliver a player to a certain college coach. But there usually are strings (money or potential assistant coaching positions?) involved. Some college coaches immediately back off, while others are focused on winning national titles and recruiting all the top high school players they can to increase the odds. The Yahoo story claims nine current or former KU players played on AAU teams, some of which were organized by the two individuals implicated in the KU ticket scam.

High school athletic associations and the NCAA have lost their discipline and control over the entire high school and college basketball scene.

At this time, who knows how deeply the KU ticket scam will go into the athletic department, alumni and off-campus friends of the school?

Longtime KU basketball ticket holders have been speaking up for years about the merry-go-round of different individuals sitting in adjacent seats, wondering whether these people had to make the costly donations to qualify for the prized seat locations. Apparently this also is going on for football tickets, even though, at this time, the demand for Memorial Stadium tickets is not as high as for tickets to men’s basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse or in arenas where the Jayhawks are playing NCAA tournament games.

Again, it’s an embarrassment for the entire school. Unfortunately, Kansas Athletics has been the tail wagging the university. Hemenway either didn’t recognize what Perkins was doing or he didn’t care or he couldn’t do anything about it. Obviously, the Board of Regents didn’t do anything, although there was, and continues to be, sufficient public concern about the KU ticket situation.

One has to wonder just how knowledgeable the regents are about what goes on at the universities under their supervision. Apparently, they accept the self-reporting by the chancellor and the presidents that everything on their campuses is great.

Gray-Little, KU’s first-year chancellor, early on, expressed her complete support and confidence in the manner Perkins was running the athletic department. At Wednesday’s press conference, she continued to support the AD.

Perkins said Wednesday he didn’t have any idea about the ticket situation until informed by the FBI or IRS that they were engaged in an investigation. Apparently he had not paid any attention to the growing complaints about the constant stream of different people occupying high-priced seats. It wasn’t until after meeting with federal officials that he terminated several higher-ups in the department.

KU faculty morale is low, and morale among alumni is deteriorating. It can and will affect the school in many ways, such as the upcoming capital campaign.

The anger of many faculty over the millions of dollars spent by the athletic department, while they are being told to operate with reduced budgets, continues to grow.

Will the scandal touch any KU coaches? Will it affect recruiting? Will the scam bring about major changes in how KU tickets are allocated?

And when will the unrest reach a point that Kansas Athletics officials will be open and transparent about how much all individuals are paying to be seated where they are? Shouldn’t someone who has paid many thousands of extra dollars for his or her seat location be sure that those sitting next to them have paid the same premium?

KU officials are so proud of their “points” and priority seating system. Apparently, it worked so well that department insiders figured out a way to use it to line their own pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Neither Perkins nor Gray-Little can be pleased with the level of oversight of the athletic department. They ought to be ashamed.