Bob Lutz: KU fans took a hit on ticket scheme
No wonder I can never get a KU basketball ticket. In what can be best described as "seedy," a University of Kansas report concluded Wednesday that five former employees of the athletic department and a former consultant intentionally diverted 17,609 basketball tickets and 2,181 football tickets for personal profit during at least the past five years.
There's no telling what's going to happen when the feds have a crack at this one, which is probably going to happen. Wichita attorney Jack Focht, who led the investigation into the ticket scandal, thinks such such an investigation could turn up much larger losses than the $1.03 million that has been uncovered.
This is, unfortunately, another casualty of the big business that college athletics has become. The wheels of profit are always churning and there are people inside every college athletics department in the country whose job it is to devise ways to bring in more cash.
At Kansas, like everywhere else, tickets mean cash. Big cash. And some of the people trusted to distribute them couldn't keep from taking a little for themselves.
Nobody raised a wary eye until a convicted Lawrence land developer blew the whistle last winter. The ensuing investigation lasted six months and concluded Wednesday, with athletic director Lew Perkins accepting responsibility during a news conference in Lawrence.
Responsibility, that is, up to a point.
"Not for anything criminal or any of those kinds of things,'' Perkins said. "Nobody picked up on this. I certainly didn't.''
A lot of KU alums have been unhappy with Perkins since he arrived at KU in 2003. They think he's too much about the almighty dollar and not enough about loyalty to those who have supported the athletic department for years.
Under Perkins, Kansas has expanded its facilities, increased donations and done well on the playing fields. The men's basketball team won a national championship in 2008 and the football team played in the Orange Bowl after the 2007 season.
Allen Fieldhouse is regularly sold out for games, but there are always scalpers waiting outside the legendary building with tickets to sell. I've always wondered how that can be, but never felt the need to follow up.
Now I guess I know, especially since some of the tickets available from scalpers got buyers, in some instances, better seats than those of big-time boosters who had been
giving to the athletic department for years.
Distributing tickets sounds easy, but anyone who has worked in the business knows how quickly control can be lost. At Kansas, obviously, the wrong people got their hands on too many of them and safeguards were lacking.
That's incredible, since Perkins has consistently beefed up the athletic department staff. There are associate athletic directors in charge of administration, internal affairs, external relations and risk management. Perkins even has his own chief of staff, Nicole Corcoran.
There are 14 associate athletic directors at Kansas and another 21 with titles as either an associate athletic director or an assistant AD.
When Perkins calls a staff meeting, half of Lawrence shows up. Yet all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't pick up on the ticket scandal, which was right under their noses for years.
Again, I'm not pointing a finger at Perkins and he should be commended for taking responsibility, although what else is he going to do? But when his employees were implicated in this mess, he was quick to get rid of them.
Still, this is an embarrassing time for Kansas, which likes to think the standards are just a little bit higher in Lawrence. Yet, just this past school year, there has been a highly-publicized campus fight between members of the football and the men's basketball teams, what some would call a Perkins witch hunt to fire football coach Mark Mangino, and the ticket scandal of all ticket scandals.
Perkins vows to do better and will start by more closely monitoring the handling and distribution of tickets. That's a really good idea, considering they were being handed out like $1-off coupons at the State Fair.
Perkins also plans to hire a full-time auditor to monitor donations, tickets and travel. Given that he has a staff that if lined up one by one would reach Mars, you wouldn't think hiring someone else is a priority. But the KU motto is: "When in doubt, make up a job.''
I repeat: Perkins has his own chief of staff.
The report released Wednesday includes a lot of mumbo-jumbo, language above the head of your average sports columnist. Yet one thing is abundantly clear: Whatever oversight was in place to legitimize ticket distribution badly failed. That's if there was any oversight at all.
Tickets are like gold to an athletic department and Kansas has a fan base, especially for men's basketball, that dreams of getting its fingers on just a couple of them over the course of a lifetime.
The process needs to be fair and equitable. When there are people on the inside whose only interest is lining their pockets, the process is poisoned.
Getting a ticket to a KU basketball game is like getting a ticket to paradise. Who knew paradise could be so dirty?Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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