Woodling: Begging by KU improper

Friday, April 7, 2006

I don't pretend to follow Kansas University student politics, but in skimming the campus newspaper the other day I noticed an election is coming up next week.

Student Senate seats are the main prize, but something else caught my eye in the University Daily Kansan. KU students also will vote on three referendums involving their fees.

One referendum calls for a reduction of $46 in fees. That one should fly.

Another involves a $1.50 increase per semester to fund something called Multicultural Education Enhancement. That sounds like a good thing, and what's another buck-50?

The third is a request for $20 per student per semester to fund women's and non-revenue intercollegiate sports. Of that 20 bucks, $15 would be used to build a boathouse for the women's rowing team.

A boathouse for the rowing team???

Certainly, a boathouse would be nice, but the KU rowing team has existed for 11 years as a varsity sport without one. And this 20-buck fee is in addition to the 20 smackers the students have been shelling out every semester since 1996 to help fund women's and non-revenue sports.

In other words, the student athletic fee would double from $20 to $40 a semester.

It's not unusual for student activity fees to help fund women's athletics, although not necessarily at the major universities - like Kansas - that command a king's ransom in television money, endorsements and football bowl payouts.

Still, there is no question women's athletics are a drain on athletic department budgets everywhere. The KU athletic department underwrites 10 women's varsity programs, and not one pays its own way.

In fact, the only women's sport that even has a chance of avoiding red ink is basketball, but the average crowds at KU women's games would at least have to double to reach the break-even point.

Salaries and travel are the main expenses. Take the KU softball team. During February and March, coach Tracy Bunge took her players to weekend tournaments in Tulsa, Okla.; Houston; Las Vegas; Hawaii; and Palm Springs, Calif.

Expensive road trips are not unusual, though. Other major-school non-revenue women's programs do the same thing. It's all about matching men's and women's spending under federal Title IX guidelines.

Title IX is the reason KU made rowing and soccer women's varsity sports in 1995 and the reason KU dropped men's tennis and swimming five years ago.

By and large, football and men's basketball always have been the primary revenue sources for college athletics, although you can't sniff at $7 million in donations through KU's Williams Fund.

Kansas University's athletic department is a multi-million dollar business. It is so corporate-oriented that it has 10 executives - or administrators, as they call them - who earn six-figure salaries. Six of those 10, in fact, earn more than $155,000 a year.

Maybe it's just me, but somehow it doesn't seem right that a big-time athletic department should be asking for a handout to build something as mundane as a boathouse.