LAWRENCE — Lew Perkins built his reputation as the Kansas athletic director by being a man of action. But with a possible seismic shift in the college sports landscape on the horizon due to Big Ten Conference expansion, Perkins is erring on the side of caution.
"We have to pay attention to it, but I don't think we should overreact," Perkins told The Wichita Eagle on Tuesday. "The Big Ten came out and shook everything up. Everybody is now running helter skelter. This is just Lew Perkins' opinion, but right now I don't see anything drastic happening in the next 24 months."
Two years? Could it really take that long for the Big Ten to pluck its choices from conferences like the Big 12 and the domino effect to begin? Every day, it seems there's a new rumor. And while Big 12 North rivals Missouri and Nebraska and South division kingpin Texas continue to be subjects of speculation, KU has not generated much — if any — buzz. The worst-case scenario for the Jayhawks involves a weakened Big 12 that places Kansas on the outside looking in nationally.
Perkins said he has sensed worry within the KU fan base when talking to alumni and donors recently.
"A lot of people are very confused right now," Perkins said. "If I wasn't in the business myself, I'd be very confused by it. You hear so many different things coming out. There's a panic mode going on right now. One thing I've tried to do as I'm out there talking to people is say 'Slow down. Don't panic.'
"Obviously, there's a lot at stake. But I'm not going to put myself in a position where I'm panicked over it."
Perkins said he and his staff have been communicating with officials from other major conferences but said KU has not been contacted by the Big Ten office. Perkins has a theory on why it's been all quiet on that front.
"Well, part of it is that we've said, I've said, we're happy where we are," Perkins said. "We love the Big 12. This is where we need to be. We are in the right place. With our history, this is our tradition, our mantra. It's everything."
Perkins wants KU in the Big 12 and says he's confident the league will remain viable long-term. He lauded Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe for being proactive in discussions with the Pacific 10 Conference about a television contract and scheduling alliance that could potentially help the Big 12 even the playing field financially.
The obvious draw for Big 12 programs to leave for the Big Ten is the $20 million each school annually receives in revenue from the Big Ten Network and other media contracts. Last year, Big 12 schools earned $8 million to $12 million largely from the league's media contracts.
"Money is important, let me tell you," Perkins said. "I don't think I've run away from the fact that money is important. But I also think when you're doing this kind of thing, you have to look at all the factors. Everything. Not just one thing."
Perkins made it clear that he values KU's regional tie to its large alumni bases in Texas and Oklahoma. Plus, if a school were to move to a conference that would demand increased travel expenses, the difference in TV revenue could be negligible.
"It's not always greener on the other side," Perkins said.
As the talk of expansion has heated up, Perkins has drawn on his past experience as the athletic director at Connecticut when the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded and purged Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East.
"Everybody thought Syracuse was going, and they ended up not going," Perkins said. "I've seen so much movement in my lifetime — and so much non-movement. If we're gonna react, let's react in a strategic manner. I want to weigh everything. Right now we're very happy here, and we'll see what happens."
If the Doomsday prediction for the Big 12 did somehow come true, it would certainly be time for Perkins to act. He said the Jayhawks would have options and that — while the focus of expansion talk has been football — the importance of KU's tradition-rich basketball program should not be underestimated in helping the school maintain its footing.
"I will do everything I can that's humanly possible to make sure that the University of Kansas comes out on top," Perkins said.