Monday, June 9, 2014

Kansas Athletics strong-arms students out of plum basketball seats

Posted By on Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 3:02 PM

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Nonprofits have to disclose their financial information, which makes for fun reading whenever they complain about losing money.

Kansas Athletics Inc., which is the entity that runs varsity sports for the University of Kansas, has $91 million in total assets, which includes $3.4 million in cash in 2013. It seems like the type of organization that could absorb a $350,000 loss off its balance sheet, particularly as KU's income figures to increase with a new television-rights deal signed in 2012 that gave KU and other Big 12 Conference schools $20 million a year until 2025.

Yet Kansas Athletics won't take a $350,000 loss lightly, particularly when it comes from a decision that the university's students made. 

In March, the KU Student Senate decided that the ongoing subsidy to the athletics department through student fees should end in light of lucrative TV deals for varsity sports alongside ever-increasing costs to students to attend school.

After some administrative wrangling, the $1.1 million annual subsidy through student fees was cut by $350,000.

In response, Kansas Athletics announced that it would strip students of some of the best seats one can grab to see basketball in Allen Fieldhouse and sell them instead to deep-pocketed donors to recoup that $350,000.

The seats in question include 120 in the corner of Allen Fieldhouse near the KU bench, above a tunnel where the university's prized Jayhawks enter and exit the court. They're fun vantage points from where students can take in the action, and hopefully grab a high-five from a jubilant player at the end of a home victory.

Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for Kansas Athletics, told The Kansas City Star that the decision wasn't one made to exact a pound of flesh from the students, but rather a reaction to the Student Senate's directive that the athletics department raise money elsewhere instead of off the backs of students.

"It's not revenge," he told the Star. "It's trying to make up lost revenue."

But let's take a look at how Kansas Athletics spends its money.

Some highlights from its tax return and audited financial statements:

* In 2012, Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self made $4.47 million.

* That same year, its spectacularly failed football coach Turner Gill made $4 million.

* Gill received $2 million that year for being fired.

* In 2012, Kansas Athletics spent nearly $214,000 to send its women's basketball team to Europe.

* In 2013, it spent $1.68 million in guarantees to visiting school athletic departments.

* In 2013, it spent $6.6 million in travel costs for various varsity athletics squads.

According to its audited financial statement, Kansas Athletics ended the 2013 fiscal year in the black with $8.5 million in net assets for the year, which includes various restricted grants and contributions.

Can't the school locate $350,000 within that kitty and let students keep some nice seats at Allen Fieldhouse?

After all, one of the basketball team's best assets is its raucous student section. When KU men's basketball plays a primetime Big Monday tilt on ESPN, it's not the wine-and-cheese crowd sitting courtside that the TV cameras show for several seconds before tipoff. Those cameras are fixed on the wild students, and that amounts to free marketing of KU's brand that reaches any prospective recruit watching a game on television.

Maybe Kansas Athletics' decision isn't revenge in its purest form; any business is free to try and make money.

But it's hard to see it as anything other than disingenuous.

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