University of Kansas

KU fundraiser resigns amid investigation

LAWRENCE — Less than two weeks after the Kansas athletic department announced an independent review of its ticket office and the Williams Educational Fund, top fund-raising official Ben Kirtland resigned Monday.

Kirtland, as the head of fund raising for Kansas Athletics Inc. and the associate athletic director for development, was the highest-ranking official working with the Williams Fund. Reached by The Eagle at his home on Monday night, Kirtland said he couldn't comment on the reason for his departure.

The resignation, announced Monday afternoon in a statement by athletic director Lew Perkins, comes amid an ongoing federal investigation of possibly illegal sales of KU men's basketball tickets. After The Wichita Eagle reported on the investigation on March 24, Perkins confirmed that the university planned an internal review of the ticket office and the Williams Fund, the athletic department's fund-raising arm.

In early March, Perkins put Rodney Jones, the assistant athletic director for the Williams Fund, on administrative leave. Jones was director of KU's ticket office before moving to the Williams Fund job in 2004.

Kirtland previously worked under Perkins at Connecticut, where he played and later coached ice hockey, and was hired by Kansas in July 2004.

"He helped put the points system together here," said Jim Marchiony, KU's associate athletic director for external relations.

In the points system, Williams Fund donors receive points for their donations, and the donors with the most points get the best seats to athletic events. Connecticut employed a similar system.

Before coming to KU, Kirtland worked in fund raising for the Dale Earnhardt Foundation and the Jimmy V Foundation, according to Marchiony, who said he could not comment on the reasons for Kirtland's resignation because it is a personnel issue.

Sources have told The Star that the federal inquiry appears to be focused on whether NCAA Tournament tickets, and perhaps season-ticket packages, have been taken illegally from the university, possibly for years, and sold through outside channels. Proceeds could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, sources said.

Kirtland will be replaced in the interim by Sean Lester, KU's associate athletics director for internal relations.

"Sean brings assurance and financial accountability to the Williams Educational Fund," Perkins said in the statement. "He knows our donors and understands how the process works."

KU's Web site says that 4,200 Williams Fund members contribute $8 million annually to fund all athletic scholarships for about 550 university athletes.