A: If you are a golfer, no doubt you have heard the adage regarding course etiquette and decorum: "Leave the golf course in better condition than what you found it." I believe that is an apt description of Lew Perkins' career in college athletics. Everywhere he has been, he has left it better than he found it. That should bode well for the University of Kansas.
While there are some issues facing the Kansas athletic department, the situation is not nearly as bad as what Perkins endured earlier in his career. My first exposure to Perkins came during his tenure as athletic director at Wichita State, where I served as a graduate assistant in the Shocker athletic department during the 1984-85 academic year. Wichita State was facing NCAA sanctions, the football program was on its deathbed and facilities were falling in disrepair. Perkins had to make some tough decisions en route to receiving a public commendation from the NCAA for cleaning up an inherited mess of a compliance program. While the university administration made the call to end the football program, Perkins was able to secure funds that led to the upgrading of athletic department facilities. He also made the difficult decision to remove successful men's basketball coach Gene Smithson as the program began to falter. Perkins gained nationwide approval for his work at Wichita State, especially for returning integrity and character to the program.
It was out of the frying pan into the fire as Perkins then moved to Maryland where he again inherited turmoil. The Terrapin basketball program was in a shambles. All-America Len Bias' drug-induced death, player defections and sub-par win-loss records had already led to Lefty Driesell's departure. The downward spiral continued and Perkins made the decision to replace head coach Bob Wade with Gary Williams. In addition, he beefed up academic support services and bolstered NCAA compliance programs. Much like he had done at Wichita State, Perkins restored faith and confidence in College Park.
Perkins' task at Connecticut was not as difficult as what he encountered at Wichita State and Maryland, but there is no doubt the Husky program prospered during his tenure. National championships in men's and women's basketball grabbed the headlines, but facilities improved across the board and fundraising has facilitated a move for the football program to Division I.
As I noted earlier, Perkins is facing some challenges at Kansas. However, the foundation of the University and athletic department is strong. Various facility upgrades, raises in coaches and staff salaries, and increasing the budget head the "to do" list. Perkins' track record speaks for itself. He has shown an ability to get from point A to point B and do it the right way. Perkins is soft-spoken, but his actions have always been loud and clear. >From my observations, he is not one to sit behind a desk and wait for opportunity. I believe he will be visible among the Jayhawk constituents and decisive in his actions.
Q: What are the prospects for the Kansas football program heading into the 2003 season?
A: Last year we never heard head coach Mark Mangino predict how many games the Jayhawks would win -- and I doubt we will hear him do so this season. Quite simply, the goal for the team is to improve a little each day. He knows that with continual improvement, the wins will take care of themselves. It is a page taken right out of Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder's book. Mangino has to feel better about his program than he did at this point last year. He has upgraded the talent level, he has a better understanding of his personnel and his student-athletes know better what is expected of them. The challenge is made greater, however, by the power of the Big 12 where the Jayhawks are looking up in the standings at as many as seven teams rated in the top 25.
At this point, I have to believe Mangino is not quite sure what to expect from his squad. The reports are positive in that spring drills were productive, recruiting was strong and off-season workouts were spirited. But injuries and depth issues limited some of what the coaches could accomplish in the spring. In addition, several key junior college recruits do not set foot on campus until fall drills. At this point it is impossible to predict what impact the recruits will have.
The media does not give Kansas much of a chance in 2003. I am sure that is fine with the Kansas head coach. He knows the Jayhawks are still a bit undermanned. But I also believe he knows the potential to surprise the "experts" is a possibility. Injuries to key starters Banks Floodman (LB) and Bill Whittemore (QB) took some of the wind out of the sails last year. If key players such as Whittemore, Floodman, running back Clark Green, defensive tackle Travis Watkins, defensive back Nick Reid and others continue to improve and avoid injury, then the prospects are much brighter. If newcomers can contribute in key areas, such as the offensive line, then the Jayhawks have a chance to prove many people wrong. We will all have a better feel for this team after fall drills.
Q: Why the sudden flurry of Conference shakeups and expansions?
A: The recent acquisition of Miami and Virginia Tech by the Atlantic Coast Conference was not a surprise to those who follow the "business" of college athletics. The ACC felt it was leaving money on the table by not having a football championship game. In addition, there was the perception that the power of the ACC was diminishing. Long considered the nation's best men's basketball conference, it has not been as dominant the last few years. The situation was even bleaker in football. Florida State carried the banner since it was absorbed into the league in the mid-1990s. However, the Seminoles have fallen a few rungs on the ladder and so too has the ACC. This not only hurts revenues, but recruiting as well.
The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech gives the ACC a big boost in terms of football, but it dilutes the league's men's basketball power. Such was the case with the formation of the Big 12 early on, but a heightened commitment to hoops by Big 12 institutions has vaulted the league to the top. The ACC still has the hurdle of being eligible to host a football title game. With 11 schools, it is still one short of having the requisite number of teams necessary to conduct such a contest. It appears the ACC will ask its Big 10 and Pac 10 brethren to pursue NCAA legislation that will reduce the number of teams needed from 12 to 10. That would allow all three to host a title game, if so desired. The Big 10 and the Pac 10 might support the ACC, but they don't appear eager to have a football title game. If the move to change the requirement fails, look for the ACC to go searching for a 12th team.
The departure of Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East will create a domino effect. Rumors of a separate Big East football and basketball conference have gained credence. Teams such as Xavier, Louisville and Cincinnati are most often mentioned as targets. The bottom line is I don't think we are done with the reshuffling of the deck. Look for Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 and perhaps the Mountain West to possibly undergo changes. However, I do not see the Big 12 changing anytime soon. Member institutions know they have it good with incredible revenues coming in from championship events and television.
The formation of the Big 12, the expansion of the SEC and the move of Florida State to the ACC in the mid-1990s has been perhaps the biggest shakeup in college football history. An expanded ACC and a restructured Big East approaches that magnitude, but falls just short. What college athletics is really waiting for is to see when and if Notre Dame makes a move with it football program. That does not seem imminent, but money does have a way of talking.
Q: What are your thoughts on the uproar over the new ticket plan for Kansas men's basketball games?
A: The media did its level best to make this a story, but missed the point entirely. Kansas is one of the last Division I schools to implement a priority seating plan. In fact, some institutions have had such policies for more than 20 years. The Kansas plan simply rewards those people who have supported the program in the past. But unlike other schools, Jayhawk athletic department officials aren't booting people from Allen Fieldhouse for not providing a donation along with their tickets. If fans don't want to donate, they have the option of purchasing tickets elsewhere in the arena. That is what the media should have directed its focus. Instead, the story was played as the athletic department was a bunch of heartless moneygrubbers.
Much of the media was lazy on this one. Their research would have found it only affected 121 people, most of which have resolved the matter to their satisfaction. They would have found that some of those tickets in premium locations have been put up for sale on the Internet. I laugh at people who claim to have owned premium location tickets for years upon years -- but have not contributed to the Williams Fund. What a deal they have been getting. Kansas basketball has been and is a great value. It is time people started contributing their fair share. No one wants to pay more for anything, but it is a fact of life. College athletics should not be run as a cold hard business, but the reality is if it is not operated with sound business principles, the situation will only get worse.