Friday, May 28, 2010


No one likes to be the one who fouled up such that others publicly say "I need to learn from his/her mistake."  That's the situation the University of Kansas athletic department finds itself in after findings from an investigation revealed approximately $3 million worth of street value tickets were illegally sold in a scheme involving five former employees.

The biggest issue now for Kansas will not be re-engineering the checks-and-balances in the ticket office.  No, the biggest issue will be rebuilding trust--trust from donors, fans, alumni, faculty, staff and, perhaps most crucially, current and prospective students and their parents.  It's oft been noted that the athletic department and its teams are the "front porch" of a public University.  At KU, that's very much the case, particularly with the tradition rich, perennial power basketball program.  But, don't overlook the football program either, which has played to full or close-to-full houses each home Saturday over the past three seasons.

The distrust caused by this scandal will impact every aspect of University life in Lawrence.  As with any brand, gaining trust takes time; losing it can happen almost instantly (can you say BP?); and rebuilding it back is not only lengthy, but sometimes not possible--at least to previously experienced levels.

Jason Whitlock, in yesterday's Kansas City Star, rightfully pointed out that what happened at Kansas is part of a pervasive issue in college sports, i.e., that greed and cash are driving decisions within college athletics and that the student-athlete is an afterthought.  (One only needs to look at all the conference realignment talk or the prior talk about expanding the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament for proof.)  And, while the incident will elevate that discussion, and also cause other Athletic Directors to quickly run down to their ticket office to ensure all is ship-shape, the bottom line is that there was a lack of institutional control at KU.  The University must act--very, very fast--to put audit processes and other governance actions in place as step one in rebuilding the trust of those who have given money to the school, and seen it mis-used.

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