Archive for Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Money, sports

KU’s ranking among Big 12 schools for athletic department support raises some questions about the health of the Williams Educational Fund.

July 25, 2012


A recent mailing from the Kansas University athletic department should get the attention of loyal Jayhawk fans.

According to the solicitation, titled “2012-13 Basketball Fund Drive — NEW Annual Giving Timeline,” KU is near the bottom of the Big 12 Conference in the number of individual donors to its private fundraising organization, the Williams Educational Fund.

This is the fund that helps finance a wide range of needs within Kansas Athletics, such as scholarships, tuition, fees, books, room and board, travel, facilities and other athletic expenses. Based on how many dollars they contribute, donors earn points that determine the availability and priority of seating at basketball and football games, invitations to travel with the teams, special dinners with KU athletic department elites, invitations and/or tickets to special events, parking permits and other goodies.

Unfortunately, according to the mailing, the number of Williams Fund contributors is third from the bottom among Big 12 schools, ahead of only Baylor University and Texas Christian University, both private universities. Texas is at the top with 12,000 donors, followed by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas. KU, by the way, exceeded TCU by just 32 donors.

The mailing notes the number of donors but not the number of dollars provided by loyal Jayhawk supporters. Maybe KU ranks much higher in total dollars.

However, the ranking should raise questions about why KU is not doing better. The Williams Fund used to be known as a leaders, strong and effective. Is it because of the negative bullying tactics of former KU athletic director Lew Perkins, the miserable showing of the KU football team the past two years, poor efforts to sell the Williams’ program and recruit new donors, a lessening of interest in the KU sports programs, a lack of support from the chancellor’s office, or something else?

How will the current KU capital campaign fit into giving for KU Athletics? KU basketball enjoys sellouts for every hone game, and there are few ways for a newcomer to buy season tickets without making a major gift or for current ticket holders to improve their seat locations without boosting their financial support.

So far, KU football has not attracted sellout attendance, but even so, football fans are expected to write bigger checks to the athletic department if they want to improve their seat locations.

Texas has always enjoyed great fan support, both in numbers and private giving, but it is questionable whether KU previously has rested at such a low level of donors as it does today.

It will be interesting to see what Sheahon Zenger’s athletic administration is able to achieve in private contributions and how the drive for more money for sports will interact with the university’s major drive to raise money for academic and research excellence at the school.

What will the 2013 report of Big 12 athletic donors show, both in the number of donors and the amount given?

Basketball donors, numberwise, probably have just about maxed out, although there will be enough hunger for better seat locations that total dollars may increase. The level of interest in football would appear to offer the best opportunity to bring in more dollars as coach Charlie Weis tries to field a better, more competitive team than the almost-winless teams of former coach Turner Gill.

Unfortunately, there is a definite correlation between money and winning. College sports are big business, not amateur athletics.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Just goes to show Lawrence,Kansas spends its' money different. Perhaps people here would rather spend it on themselves or go to the theatre, or perhaps people in this area believe too much money is spent on big time athletics for what is received in return.

Corruption with athletes receiving preferential treatment while many other students bust their butts for a respectable GPA.

Look at the money spent on coaches.....

Look at how long term Jayhawks got screwed around in favor of wealthier folks..... lost their season tickets to big bucks.

Phillbert 5 years, 9 months ago

"Maybe KU ranks much higher in total dollars."

Maybe that would be something to look up before writing an entire column about athletics fundraising.

KU_cynic 5 years, 9 months ago


After blowing several million dollars buying off failed football coaches, a decade of pay-without-performance for a cellar-dwelling women's basketball program, losing track of millions of dollars of tickets embezzled by KUAC employees, enduring the cigar-chomping greedy self-dealing annoyance of Lew Perkins, and capturing multi-millions from people like Anderson and the Booths (that might -- just might -- have been given to support struggling academic programs) -- and the J-W wants to plead relative poverty on behalf of KUAC?

Perhaps those of us who invest our money and time on other more substantive pursuits just have our priorities straight.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 9 months ago

I'm reminded of an incident that happened a number of years ago. I was walking down Mass. St with my young son on a beautiful autumn afternoon, a game day Saturday. Downtown was empty as the game was currently being played. My son saw one of those gum ball machines in a clothing store and asked if he could have one. When we entered the store, there was not a customer in sight, only the staff person. I casually said something like he must be expecting a big crowd after the game. He said "only if we win". Well, I had my doubts as K.U. was a big underdog to a highly ranked team that day. But we did pull off that upset and downtown exploded with activity. Mind you, not just any activity, but business activity. As in every bar and restaurant full. As in clothing stores selling products as fast as they could bag them. As in sales taxes flowing into the city's coffers. Yes, big time sports has it's flaws. Yes we make compromises. But big time sports in our town means jobs. It means money going to the city so they can turn around and fund a "T" or a homeless shelter. It means supporting (fill in the blank with YOUR favorite pet project). It means a lot to a city like Lawrence.

gccs14r 5 years, 9 months ago

But if there were not a game being played that day, then downtown would have had its normal business, rather than no business. Athletics spending enriches the few at the expense of the many and skews priorities in an unhealthy way.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 9 months ago

Usually, people behave in their own best interests. So if I see downtown merchants trying very hard to keep the Missouri game in Lawrence rather than in Arrowhead, even when the game is only once every two years, then I think it's in their best interests to have the game, with it's slow period during the game and surge afterwards. I think the game equals good business.

P Allen Macfarlane 5 years, 9 months ago

If the money poured into college sports could be funneled into improving our education system instead, maybe we would fair better as a nation in the international rankings. The purpose of higher education is to help students develop the skills they will need to live full lives. We could still meet that goal if we used our athletic programs as apprenticeships for students wishing to go pro. Since colleges and universities are all about money anyway and the athletes who go to college are all about the business of athletics, this could be a win-win situation. Everybody gets what they want --- the schools get their money and the kids he experience they need to play on the bigger stage.

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