KU Fans: Worried About the Wrong Problem

A lot of Jayhawk fans I've talked to since Wednesday's ticket scam media conference are worried about the long-term footprint this will leave on Kansas Athletics.

I'm here to tell you, not much. You don't need to worry about that.
 
First, let's get some perspective. A handful of KU employees stole a Field House full of tickets over the course of years and scalped them for silly amounts of money. A lot of trust was violated and relationships, both professional and personal, were certainly blown out of the water.
 
Opposing coaches may try and baffle a few recruits with some "troubled school" bull. Some donors will be grouchy until they know that none of their money disappeared and that they can get decent seats again. Small-time donors will continue to whine that Lew is big and mean and won't return their phone calls.
 
This, too, shall pass.
 
Reality is, to you and me, $1 million is not a lot of money. Granted, it's going to be a lot of money to Rodney Jones and Charlette Blubaugh and others, both named and unnamed at this juncture, who are going to have to figure out a way to pay it back to the University even though I'd bet it's all been spent.
 
No one, including KU, wants to lose $1 million. To Kansas athletics, though, $1 million is something you pick up after a nice lunch with Dana Anderson. It's an accounting error. For some, it's a bonus after a particularly successful year. This isn't about the money.
 
All the Lew-haters, Tigers and Wildcats blathering buzzwords that they think sound important, like "lack of institutional control," and calling for Athletic Director Lew Perkins' head are just being dopey.
 
If some of the money was trickling down to players, then you could scream all you want. You could cry if you could follow the money uphill to Lew's office. But there's absolutely no reason to think any of that was happening.
 
This was five people – six if you count Blubaugh's husband, Tom, who was a contract consultant to the athletic department – who (allegedly) decided to make some cash by stealing tickets and scalping them. They did so in the face of numerous controls and audits and still got away with it. As the Feds continue their investigation, other names will probably come up. A couple of them were reported in the excellent Yahoo Sports piece last week.
 
I'm not trivializing what happened, but I also refuse to make it more than what it is. This was a group of employees stealing from the office. That's it. There's nothing more insidious and evil than that. It was, simply, a crime. It may end up being a Federal crime, since it's attracted the attention of the Revenuers.
 
Office theft began one day after someone invented the office. No one cares, however, when Linda takes a ream of paper and a box of pens from the office. They might if she stole a million dollars worth of pens, but that's another story. That's also a lot of pens.
 
The point is these people stole from their employer just like Linda did. Nothing more. A crime doesn't constitute an NCAA rules violation. So cool your jets on that, Turbo.
 
Sidebar to donors: okay, when a mid-level manager of an athletic department hands you a boatload of very expensive tickets to an athletic event and tells you to just make the check out to him or her and not to the University, that should send up red flags. Just a little helpful advice from your Uncle Jimbo.
 
KU fans knew, when Lew Perkins was hired, that Kansas Athletics was moving on from the gentleman's handshake agreement, raccoon-coat-and-pep-rally days in which we were mired. If they hadn't hired Perkins, KU would be the best damn school in the Missouri Valley right now.
 
Anyone who didn't stop to think, however, that leaping into the arms race with the Texases and the Nebraskas of the world wasn't going to put KU in a position for these things to happen – bigger budget and more success means more money and more temptation – is either naïve or just not very bright.
 
Now, here's why Kansas fans – and all college sports fans – should be worried.
 
Perkins commented at the media conference that athletic directors from all over the country had been calling him to pick his brain on what happened and how the investigation was going. This is bad, bad news.
 
Lew Perkins has never given me reason to distrust him. That said, if we take what he said – that his friends and colleagues were calling – at face value, we can conclude that athletic directors think similar schemes are occurring at a lot of other schools, not only under their noses but the collective noses of the auditors and attorneys their institutions hire to catch this kind of stuff.
 
Corruption in college athletics has been going on since the 1920s, probably even before that. Thanks to the internet, e-mail, camera phones and small, portable video recorders, we hear and see more about it now than people did back then.
 
The firm investigating KU's ticket allocation system, including priority seating, Select-a-Seat, Williams Fund, et al, said that additional safeguards could and should be put in place. Those same people turned right around, however, and said that no matter what you do, if the right person wants to steal, they can.
 
(Insert obligatory "When will they change the name of the Williams Fund?" joke here.)
 
Speaking of illegal activities, maybe this is a good spot for a quick word about our boys, David and Dana Pump. From what little I know and what I can gather, they're not doing anything illegal. There's nothing wrong with ticket brokering, so long as you report the income. There's nothing wrong with sponsoring AAU teams, except that after you attend an AAU tournament, you just feel dirty. There's nothing wrong with helping place coaches in good jobs and helping schools find good coaches. These are all noble endeavors. Well, all except the whole sleazy AAU thing.
 
But when you pull it all together, only then do you realize they've infiltrated every aspect of high-level major college basketball. Maybe that in itself isn't illegal, but it sure seems like it's a breeding ground for all kinds of sordid activities. And I promise you that in the coming weeks we're going to hear about just how widespread their influence is. You think William "World Wide Wes" Wesley is seedy? The Pump Brothers make him look like a student film.
 
The big-picture concern should be the widespread nature of the corruption resulting from the insane amount of money and juice one can acquire by cheating their employers. What happened at KU is all about a few greedy people making money and so-called friends while they could and getting out one step ahead of the pitchfork-and-torch-carrying angry mob. They just screwed up and didn't know when to get out.
 
The thing is it's not just happening at KU. If it were a uniquely Kansas problem, Perkins' phone wouldn't have been ringing off the hook. Lew has a lot of friends, but rest assured all these athletic directors weren't calling to see how his golf game is shaping up or ask about the grandkids.
 
If you think it's bad now, however, wait until the conference realignment takes place. This is a move about nothing other than money. It's not about the betterment of the universities or providing the student-athletes (or, simply, "athletes," depending on your attitude) with a better college experience. It's not about the students or the fans. It's about money. Money money money. Don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise. It's a waste of time and energy and it makes you look silly.
 
Here's the real kicker, though: if you think it's bad then, wait till the power conferences tell the NCAA to take a hike and start holding their own postseason basketball tournament and, it would logically follow, football playoff. It's already in the works among some institutions. That will result in an all-out money-grab. Don't bother writing a rule book because no one will read it.
 
Short of capping television deals and ticket prices, thus limiting the amount of money conferences and schools can make, nothing will stop the corruption that is so prevalent at NCAA institutions. The NCAA won't do that, because they have too much at stake. In order to make it not worth criminals' time, they'd have to institute policies and rules that would take money out of their own pockets. They don't have the huevos to do that.
 
A federal judge can throw the book at the people named in the report as well as a couple who weren't named but who were (allegedly) involved in scalping and, quite possibly, money laundering. Hell, the judge can pelt them with an entire set of Federal statutes and regulations. It won't stop corruption in college athletics. No matter how bad things get for the people who stole God knows how much from KU, there's always going to be someone who thinks they're smarter, they're slicker and that their scheme is absolutely foolproof.

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