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Curmudgeonly professor admits that athletics matter!


As anyone who has read my moderately frequent chat board comments can attest (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?), I am squarely among those curmudgeonly KU professors who think that college athletics has gone over the top in terms of placing money and elite athletic performance above academics and common sense values. KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins should be packing his bags and not coasting into a lucrative retirement, in my opinion, and former chancellor Bob Hemenway needs to be brought out of retirement to be whacked with a stick for letting Lew and his cronies run wild over the past few years.

That said, I take no delight in the Big XII conference meltdown, but not because I give a rat’s backside about against whom KU sports teams will be scheduled starting two years from now. Rather, I am concerned about two things: KUAC finances and KU academics.

Last year KUAC issued $32.5 million in revenue bonds to invest in facilities improvements. Those bonds will be paid off over 24 years by revenue streams based on ticket sales – especially football ticket sales, media revenues, and donor receipts. I’m already concerned that some anticipated donor receipts – such as the Kivisto pledges, are less than certain. But if KU lands in a conference with less media exposure and less prestigious competition, future donor pledges will probably fall on a less ambitious trajectory than if the Big XII were to survive, as will football ticket receipts and media revenues. In short, KUAC has been built and financed “on the come”, and in a less prestigious conference there will be fewer bucks coming in. In the long run that means either KU fails to keep up in the inter-collegiate arms race or, alternatively, KU athletics consumes more and more resources – private and public – that are desperately needed to rebuild crumbling classrooms and endow faculty professorships to preserve and enhance academic quality.

But the effect on academics could be more direct. Specifically, in an effort to improve retention statistics KU is preparing to increase admission standards to screen out more students who are not prepared for rigorous academic work. Implicit in this strategy is the idea that once the chafe has been separated from the wheat then KU will advance as a college of choice for talented students, both in-state and out-of-state. In other words, KU can increase admission standards without too substantial a decline in enrollment. But what if KU is no longer in a big time athletic conference? I think that the effect on enrollments will be negative – especially for students from nearby states who no longer share an athletic conference with KU (Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado). In short, if the expected “college experience” is diminished -- which necessarily includes men’s basketball and football spectatorship (for the worse, in my opinion), KU will on the margin lose admissions competitions for talented out-of-state and even in-state students against the likes of Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, and the Texas schools.

This is a pivot point in the history of KU, and not merely football and basketball. Conference realignment, the turbulence and change in KU leadership -- rookie chancellor, new provost, new CLAS dean, and now a transition to a new AD (and supporting cast), and continued state budget woes combine for a perfect storm from which KU could emerge permanently diminished.

Sports do matter. There, dang it, I said it.


KU_Alumn_2003 7 years, 11 months ago

Well said. Athletics plays an essential role in everyday life. Without the sports the quality of life on campus diminishes. Even Nelson Mandela recognized the need for sport in everyday life. Framing the conference realignment as another dramatic distraction from the real purpose of a University fails to consider the individual needs of the attending student. Every major tier 1 and 2 academic institution, with few exception, maintains an athletic department. Furthermore, they encourage the rivalries and work hard to preserve quality and excellence in their athletic programs.

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