In what has become nearly an annual affair at the University of Kansas, members of the University Senate quizzed KU’s athletic director on whether the athletic program can provide more money to support general university operations.
At Thursday’s University Senate meeting, the answer again was that’s not likely to happen soon, but new athletic director Travis Goff did have a new explanation on why — the new Big 12 Conference likely won’t be as rich as the old one.
By 2025, both Texas and Oklahoma are scheduled to leave the Big 12 Conference for the SEC, and that will have major implications on the amount of money television networks are willing to pay the Big 12 to air conference football games.
“I do forecast, and I could get in trouble for this from the conference, but I do forecast going backward in our media distribution,” Goff said.
How much is uncertain, but it could be a cut of $10 million or more spread across the universities of the conference. That too is changing, as four new schools — Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Central Florida — will join the league. That means the television money in the future not only will be smaller in total, but also will be split differently.
“Nobody in that group can come close to driving the value that Texas has for the conference,” Goff said of the new schools and the impact they will have on the television contracts. “And No. 2, you are slicing the pie 12 ways versus the 10 that we have been.”
All of that will add up to athletic department budgets that are tougher to balance for a while, Goff said.
“I think we have a challenging three to five years ahead of us financially in athletics,” Goff said. “At some juncture, I think it would be a wonderful thing. I know we would all celebrate further opportunities for athletics to send dollars back to KU outside of the things I’ve described.”
While that was a new reason why KU Athletics will be challenged to provide more money to the general university, there was one old reason offered too — KU football.
Goff said the likely reduction in conference revenue makes it more critical than ever for KU to be successful both on the field and financially.
“It is not a surprise to anyone that we have been an underperforming program in the way of wins and losses, and certainly we have been an underperforming program as it relates to financial viability,” Goff said. “To me the takeaway is exceptional opportunity. I really believe in the world of this level of intercollegiate athletics that the University of Kansas has more upside, certainly as much upside as anyone out there, because of the potential within that program.”
In addition to improving the financial success of the football program, Goff said KU will rely on fundraising to help close any financial gap created by the loss of Texas and Oklahoma. University Senate members did push back on some fundraising issues. One member expressed concern that donors get overly excited about making contributions to athletics, which makes it more difficult to get them to donate to academic causes.
“Is there anything you can do to have them throw a few bucks our way?” Barbara Kerr, a professor and member of University Senate, said in relation to donors.
More specifically, University Senate member David Day asked whether KU Athletics would consider changing its points system for basketball seating in Allen Fieldhouse to better encourage donors to make gifts to non-athletic endeavors. Historically, a donation to the athletic department’s Williams Fund has produced more seat-related points than a general donation to the university.
Goff said it was a topic that might come up as the department undergoes a new strategic plan, but he stopped short of endorsing the idea. He also told the group that it might be easy to overlook the amount of money that KU Athletics does send back to the university in terms of tuition payments for student-athletes, dining plans, housing payments and other such fees that KU Athletics pays on behalf of student-athletes. That amount totals about $18.5 million a year, while parking fees add another $1.5 million and the department pays about $1 million in wages to student employees.
Plus, there are the reputation-related benefits a university receives from a successful athletic program, although Goff said it is important to not oversell that function.
“You’ve probably heard this analogy that we’re potentially a front porch, so to speak, to the university, but by no means the most important aspect,” Goff said. “We have to be reminded of and remind ourselves of that regularly.”
Goff also addressed a few other items with the group:
— He said there was little information he could share about the status of KU’s NCAA infractions case regarding possible rules violations of the men’s basketball program. He called the case a “cloud that has been hanging over our heads” for nearly four years.
“I do anticipate there is a great opportunity in 2022 to move forward and put that behind us,” Goff said. “So I have allowed myself 10 months, but I really am optimistic based on my first 10 months that we will in 2022 move forward through that and will have a plan in place to make sure we navigate any of the challenges it brings successfully.”
— Goff said he doesn’t think a new NCAA constitution is likely to lead to the largest universities completely separating from the NCAA, but rather will “be a step toward further separation.”
— Goff said KU is rolling out new technology later this month for student-athletes to anonymously communicate with athletic department leaders. The anonymous texting platform will provide a way for student-athletes to express concerns about any number of topics ranging from mental health to hazing to academic concerns or other issues.
“They can articulate any concerns they might have,” Goff said.