As Kansas University basketball fans cheer the beginning of the men’s team’s season tonight, another group of people will mark a different, but related, milestone when KU takes on Emporia State in an exhibition game.
That group would be those people who park their cars on the KU campus on weeknights so they can work, study or attend night classes. And for them, tonight is the first of several nights during the next few months when it will become much more of a struggle for them to find those parking spots.
KU senior Rebecca Stout actually counts herself a member of both of those groups.
She’s a KU basketball fan and goes to games at Allen Fieldhouse when she can. But she also works two jobs to help her pay her way through school, so she frequently has to take classes at night.
“I like to go out and have fun,” Stout said. “Fun isn’t going to get me a degree.”
Last spring, she enrolled in a 5 p.m. class that met at Summerfield Hall, just around the corner from Allen Fieldhouse. When she arrived one afternoon before a men’s basketball game was scheduled, she saw a sign at the entrance of her usual parking lot saying that it would be reserved for game-related parking. But she assumed that couldn’t apply to students parking to go to class.
After class was over, she found a $20 parking ticket on her windshield.
She was left confused and furious that basketball fans could apparently make use of campus space at the expense of a student paying thousands of tuition dollars, along with $180 for an annual parking permit.
“I’m pretty sure you can’t publish the words that I’d like to say,” Stout said.
According to numbers provided by the KU Parking and Transit office, Kansas Athletics Williams Fund members on men’s basketball game nights are allotted 2,020 parking spots normally open to students, faculty or staff, concentrated around the Fieldhouse. (That’s in addition to 745 Williams Fund-devoted spots in the Allen Fieldhouse parking garage.)
That amounts to about 43 percent of the open spots on the main campus, with 2,662 remaining available to others.
Parking and Transit also reserves three lots with a total of 445 spaces for students, faculty or staff to use on game nights, as well as a series of smaller lots open only to faculty or staff, totaling 112 spots.
Out of 19 on-campus home games for the men’s team this season, seven will take place on weeknights when classes are in session.
Why does Parking and Transit allow basketball crowds to overtake so many spots? The games are a cash cow for the office, which receives no outside funding from the university and thus must use parking passes, tickets, meters and other means to fund its maintenance of parking lots, pay for employees and other costs, Parking and Transit director Donna Hultine said.
Kansas Athletics leases lots from Parking and Transit for use on game days, then charges Williams Fund members for passes. During the last fiscal year, Parking and Transit took in between $800,000 and $900,000 in men’s basketball revenue, out of $6.2 million in total parking revenue for the year, Hultine said. Altogether, about $1.3 million in revenue came from athletic events. About $3.2 million came from student, staff and faculty parking passes.
‘Let’s get our priorities straight’
Terese Thonus, though, says that money isn’t reason enough to give basketball fans priority over students or staff when it comes to parking on campus.
“There are spaces available, but there’s just not enough space for the people who are on campus,” Thonus said.
Thonus is director of the KU Writing Center, which provides writing help for students, and she also teaches classes in the English department. Last spring, she started to push Parking and Transit to change the way it handles parking on basketball game nights.
Thonus oversees 40 student employees who set up shop at libraries and residence halls, often in the evening, to provide one-on-one writing help. She was sparked to act after several of them received tickets for parking in lots reserved for basketball parking last winter — sometimes costing more than they would be paid for their shift, she said.
“They paid the university for the privilege of working,” Thonus said.
Hultine notes that on game nights students can find spots in the Park and Ride lots across Iowa Street on the west campus, then take buses to the main campus.
Thonus proposed, though, that the office instead force basketball fans to park on the west campus and ride a shuttle to the Fieldhouse. Fans coming from outside, and not those who need to work on campus at night, should be the ones who shoulder the load, she says.
“I’m just saying: Let’s get our priorities straight,” Thonus said.
Hultine said taking that measure would cost the office more than $300,000 in lost revenue and costs, including running buses and paying monitors to make sure fans weren’t parking on the main campus. And there may not be enough spots there, anyway.
Parking problems on basketball game nights have been an issue for decades, Hultine said.
“I think most people at the university just deal with it,” Hultine said. “They know basketball season is coming. They try to adapt accordingly.”
Adapt is what Stout did. She considered parking in the Kansas Union garage for her class on game nights, but that would cost her a toll, and it would present a long walk that could cause complications with her joint and muscle pain problems. So she just recruited a friend to give her a ride.
But the situation still strikes her as unjust, she said.
“They should accommodate students before they accommodate the public,” Stout said.
Hultine says that anyone who has trouble formulating a parking plan on game nights can contact Parking and Transit for help: 864-PARK, or firstname.lastname@example.org. And the office tries to be understanding, she said.
“I know we catch a lot of people off-guard at the beginning of the season,” Hultine said. “I understand that can be frustrating. We try to be a little more lenient.”
Overall, though, she said she believes sufficient parking is available for people who need to work on campus on game nights, even if that parking may not be as convenient.
Thonus said she’s found few people to back her up on her proposal for a change, even after she pleaded her case at a University Senate Executive Committee meeting last month. Many people just seem to consider it a fact of life that it will be tough to park on campus on game nights, she said.
“I guess I’m just naive enough to think maybe there is something hopeful about bringing this out in the open for discussion,” Thonus said.