Kansas Regents taking steps to ensure KU, other schools can’t change athletic conferences without prior approval

The Big 12 Conference logo is seen on a goal line pylon before Duquesne plays TCU in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

If the University of Kansas ever decides it wants to change athletic conferences, it is appearing likely that it will have to win some state approvals that aren’t required today.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents are in the process of creating a new policy that would require any Regents university — KU, K-State, Wichita State, Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State and Emporia State — to get approvals from at least three non-university officials before moving to a new athletic conference.

The pending policy — which was recently approved by a subcommittee of the Regents, but not yet acted upon by the full board — comes on the heels of major conference realignment, which has sparked discussion about whether KU may need to move from the Big 12 Conference to protect its athletic programs.

Among the biggest shake-ups nationally has been the University of California-Los Angeles announcing plans to leave the Pac-12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference in 2024. That planned move has drawn protests across California’s higher education scene, with allegations that other public schools in the state will be harmed if UCLA’s move diminishes or destroys the Pac-12 Conference.

“We saw with the UCLA situation that there wasn’t alignment there, and we want to make sure we move forward in alignment in Kansas,” Regents Chair Jon Rolph told the Journal-World on Thursday.

But Kansas officials are stopping far short of requiring that the full Board of Regents publicly approve any conference change. Instead, the Governance Committee of the Regents is recommending approval of a policy that would require the chair, vice chair and president/CEO of the Board of Regents to approve of any move to a new conference.

Rolph said the Regents are working to create a policy to ensure that the Board of Regents isn’t “notified after the fact” of a conference change. Some higher education leaders in California have alleged that was the situation with UCLA and its decision to move from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big Ten Conference. In California, everybody from the governor to Regents have considered retroactively removing UCLA’s authority to make its own decisions about conference membership. That could result in UCLA having to back out of its planned 2024 move to the Big Ten.

Kansas Regents want to avoid that situation with any move involving a Kansas university. But Rolph said he currently isn’t considering a requirement that the full Board of Regents be required in a public meeting to approve of a conference move. Rolph said negotiations at times can move very quickly and not align well with meeting schedules of the Regents.

“We think this process will allow the chair and vice chair to represent the views of the board,” Rolph said.

He also said that if there were disagreements among the Regents, the board could choose to have the entire board consider any conference changes before they are finalized.

The Regents have had a policy in place since 2020 — created shortly after Wichita State changed conferences — that requires the board chair and the president/CEO of the Regents to grant approval to begin negotiations about any potential change in conferences. While the current policy requires a university to get permission to negotiate, it does not require approval from any Regents official to actually change conferences. The proposed policy explicitly would require such approval.

“Expedited Board Chairman, Board Vice Chairman, and Board President and CEO approval shall also be required before the final decision to change is made and communicated to any third party,” the proposed policy reads.

Regent President and CEO Blake Flanders told the Governance Committee that he expects to be notified of any communication a university leader has regarding a change in conferences.

“I think there was some confusion over what is negotiating,” Flanders said. “What this would cover is really any discussion, which as we know discussions can turn into negotiations pretty quickly and it gets pretty fluid.”

Under the proposed policy, Rolph, Flanders and Carl Ice, the Regents’ vice chair, who also is a leader of the Kansas State University Foundation, would be the three people required to grant approval for a conference change.

It is anticipated the full Board of Regents will consider the new policy for approval in the coming months.


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