LAWRENCE — Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins will retire next year, ending a highly successful but sometimes-stormy 43-year career in sports administration.
The 65-year-old Perkins made the announcement in a statement released through the school, one day after he was cleared of accepting free use of gym equipment in exchange for favors and the same day the Big 12 began to break apart with Colorado's defection to the Pac-10.
Perkins plans to remain at Kansas until September 2011 so that he can help the school through the thorny issue of conference realignment. Nebraska is reportedly heading for the Big Ten and several other schools are being courted by other conferences.
"I have loved my time here at the University of Kansas and I will continue leading Kansas Athletics over the course of the next year," Perkins said in the statement.
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"My greatest priority is working on conference alignment issues, and as I've committed to the chancellor, I will work tirelessly on these efforts."
Since Perkins arrived from Connecticut in 2003, Kansas has experienced unprecedented growth and success but also angered many alumni by putting in a "points system" that gives favorable seating to people who contribute the most money to the school.
Two years ago, after the Jayhawks won the Orange Bowl and the NCAA basketball championship, Perkins was named by Time Magazine as the No. 1 administrator in college sports. Seizing the good will brought by the school's greatest year in athletics, Perkins launched a building program that brought facilities out of the 1960s — including a $31 million football facility.
Yet, recent months have been taxing on the Chelsea, Mass., native. Besides the charges of a former employee regarding free use of gym equipment, the university has been rocked by a federal probe into a widespread scam involving the sale of basketball and football tickets.
Five employees, including some of Perkins' closest aides, have been fired. An independent investigation commissioned by the school said the scam went on at least from 2005-10 and may have cost the school $3 million. The FBI is investigating the allegations and Perkins had to testify last week before a grand jury.
Perkins was not been implicated.
In addition, Kansas suffered through an embarrassing football season that ended in a long losing streak and the firing of coach Mark Mangino, two seasons after he had been voted the consensus national coach of the year.
About the same time, Perkins' sister died, adding more grief to what he told The Associated Press has been the worst year of his professional life.
In a conversation with an AP reporter last week, Perkins began weeping and said the support of family and friends had enabled him to get through it all. "I hate to use the word 'victim,' " he said, dabbing at his eyes. "People think I've done something wrong. But I'm the victim here."
In fact, Lawrence police are now investigating Perkins' charge that he was blackmailed by a former employee in connection with the gym equipment incident.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who has been a staunch ally, said Perkins led the school "during a time of remarkable growth and success.
"A national championship in men's basketball. Victory in the Orange Bowl. A full field house for the WNIT final. And numerous awards and honors for KU student-athletes and teams. But more importantly, his leadership has enabled Kansas student-athletes to make remarkable strides in the classroom. Throughout Kansas athletics, there is a focus on academic excellence that is befitting a university of KU's distinction."
Board of Regents member Ed McKechnie, a former Kansas House member, said Perkins' decision allows him to focus on conference realignment, which he called "the biggest issue we have right now in athletics."
"There've been a lot of distractions in the past month," McKechnie said. "Lew's very talented. Whether he was distracted — I couldn't go to Bob's Grill without having people talk to me about it."
McKechnie said Perkins has made a good decision.
"I know Lew's a fighter," McKechnie said. "I knew he would have stayed and fought if he thought it was the right thing."