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KU denies link to student loan company under investigation

University of Kansas officials denied on Wednesday having a direct relationship with University Financial Services, a student loan company that is under investigation by the office of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo recently uncovered an agreement between the athletic director at Dowling College in Long Island, N.Y., and UFS, which entailed UFS paying the school $75 for every new loan application it received with the athletic department’s help.

To further his investigation, Cuomo is trying to learn whether top college athletic departments nationwide have received similar kickbacks for directing athletes and other students to preferred education lenders. KU was subpoenaed along with 39 others — including Auburn, Georgetown and UCLA.

UFS, officially named Student Financial Services Inc., is indeed a sponsor of Kansas athletics, but Kansas associate athletics director Jim Marchiony stressed that the department does not receive money from UFS.

“UFS’s relationship is with Host Communications, which owns Kansas athletics’ multimedia rights,” Marchiony said. “So UFS pays Host, not Kansas athletics. Host pays us a fee every year for owning our multimedia rights, then they go out and sell sponsorships. They keep the money for the sponsorships they sell. This is a sponsorship just like Crown Toyota, Holiday Inn, anything else.”

Like Holiday Inn, UFS receives a link at the bottom of Kansas’ official athletic Web site, kuathletics.com. That link opens a UFS page painted in the KU colors of blue and crimson and says, “Welcome Jayhawks!” at the top.

A site such as this would certainly pique Cuomo’s interest, since he is investigating how team names, mascots and colors could be used to suggest that a loan company was the college’s preferred lender.

“Students trust their university’s athletic departments because so much of campus life at Division I schools centers around supporting the home team,” Cuomo said in a press release. “To betray this trust by promoting loans in exchange for money is a serious issue, especially when Division I schools already generate tremendous revenue from their student athletes.”

Marchiony said Kansas had not been aware of this issue before receiving a fax requesting information Wednesday.

“It came as a surprise to us because no one from the New York Attorney General’s office ever contacted us to ask us about it,” Marchiony said. “If they had, we could have supplied them with a very logical explanation.”

That explanation would have included that Kansas does not give out names of current or future student-athletes to UFS, nor does it push its student-athletes in that company’s direction, according to Marchiony. Cuomo found that Dowling College did just that, along with using athletic department interns to distribute material about UFS to students. Marchiony said that a search for wrongdoing at Kansas wouldn’t be fruitful.

“If they’re looking for something shady,” Marchiony said, “they’re going to be very disappointed.”

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