LAWRENCE — The cost of living among college basketball’s elite continues to rise.
The latest evidence: The University of Kansas is in the planning stages of a $17.5 million apartment project that would house as many as 32 men’s and women’s basketball players. The complex, south of Allen Fieldhouse on Naismith Drive, is scheduled to open for the 2016-17 school year.
For Kansas, it’s another investment designed to keep its basketball program among the nation’s best, specifically in the area of recruiting.
“We have one of the very elite basketball programs in the country, and we want to do everything we can to stay there,” KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said. “Not only that, we need to, and housing is part of that.”
At first glance, the price tag may induce some sticker shock. The estimated cost per resident is close to $265,000.
By comparison, KU is also building two new freshman-focused residence halls to replace McCollum Hall. The estimated cost of that project — $47.8 million — comes out to $68,000 per resident. The new residence halls are set to open for the 2015-16 school year and will include single rooms and two- and four-person suites to house 700 students.
The apartment complex, which would house 66 students, would be two to three stories with two wings: one each for two- and four-bedroom apartments.
Each apartment would have a full kitchen and living and dining room and the building would include lounges on each floor, two team meeting rooms, tutoring space and a multipurpose room. Construction is not scheduled to start for another year.
The Kansas Board of Regents will consider the proposal next week, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
“I’m really struggling with the cost there,” said Kenny Wilk, vice chairman of the regents, according to the newspaper.
But while some might see the apartment project as expensive, KU officials see it as a cost of operating a big-time basketball program. If you want to recruit the best players in the country to campus, you have to offer them the nicest living conditions.
“The cost is reflective of what we want to build,” Marchiony said, adding that much of the costs are for site improvements, including the addition of a courtyard and replacing existing parking.
In addition, Marchiony said the university would not spend any money on the apartments. KU has lined up private donors, and the rest of the money would come from bonds that would be paid from revenues generated by the apartment complex.
Housing for athletes at big-time programs has become more and more lavish. In 2012, the University of Kentucky built the Wildcat Coal Lodge, a $7 million, privately-funded dormitory designed to house the school’s basketball players.
According to NCAA rules, schools cannot provide dormitories for the exclusive use of student-athletes. But they can reserve space in on-campus housing for athletes, so the residents at the Wildcat Coal Lodge are a mix of basketball players and students who aren’t scholarship athletes.
The nation’s top football programs are in the housing game as well. In the last year, Auburn built a $51 million residence hall designed to house close to 415 students, including the school’s football players.
To comply with NCAA rules, KU athletics states in its internal student-athlete housing policy that “student-athletes may not receive any special services or material amenities that are not provided to all students on an equitable basis.” So the new apartment building would be open to 34 non-athletes.
Kansas basketball players, as well as other KU athletes, currently live in the Jayhawker Towers apartment complex, located just northwest of Allen Fieldhouse off 15th Street. The Towers have undergone renovations in recent years, and Marchiony said that nothing is inherently lacking about the living experience there. But the new apartments would be a step up.
“We want to stay in the elite few of college basketball programs,” Marchiony said, “and you have to continue to move forward.”