Originally published September 2, 2009 at 11:19a.m., updated September 2, 2009 at 07:06p.m.
Kansas Athletics will direct $40 million — a portion of revenue expected from an addition to Memorial Stadium — to academic programs at Kansas University.
The revenue would come from a proposed club seating addition that would accommodate 3,000 fans on the east side of Memorial Stadium.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has yet to determine the specific allocations for the dollars, but it will support students, faculty and academic programs.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gray-Little praised the agreement. “This is big,” the new chancellor said.
She said it was a wonderful experience to have this agreement be her first significant interaction with the athletic department.
“I think it says something about the athletic director’s interest and knowledge of what the university’s main function and main purpose is,” Gray-Little said. “I think it says something about a great university being one where academics and athletics can not only co-exist but actually be mutually supportive of one another.”
Gray-Little said it had not yet been determined how the university would receive the money and over how much time it would be distributed. She said the money could support scholarships, fellowships and other programs that have suffered recent budget reductions.
Lew Perkins, KU athletics director, said the new addition could be ready by the beginning of the next football season.
The Gridiron Club, which would be housed in a tower on the east side of Memorial Stadium, is designed to complement the existing westside scholarship suites and enhance the appearance of the stadium from neighborhoods to the east.
The existing suites seat nearly 600 people, but also include areas for the media.
Lew Perkins, KU athletics director, said exact details of the structure were still being worked out. But the seats could run from end zone to end zone and feature both indoor and outdoor seating.
More details on the seats will be available later this month, when the project goes before the Kansas Board of Regents.
Revenues from the sale of those eastside seats are expected to finance the project’s $34 million construction cost, as well as the $40 million academic commitment.
Pricing and other details on seating in the club will be announced later.
Perkins said the project had already generated a fair amount of excitement, and Kansas Athletics had been fielding calls from people interested in information about the new seats.
Perkins and Gray-Little said that while the idea for the stadium expansion had been in place before her arrival as chancellor, the idea to share the revenue from the project came out of a meeting Perkins and Gray-Little had during the summer.
The Kansas Board of Regents, which must approve the project, will consider it during its Sept. 16-17 meeting.
Perkins said he thought the project would be a hit — and hit big. The westside suites are currently sold out, he said. Kansas Athletics has heard from fans interested in more suite space, and has conducted studies indicating that the seats would sell.
He said the university and the athletic department were a family; when one benefits, so does the other. So when an opportunity for a large revenue-generating project arose, he said, it was important to share the wealth.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “When the university gets stronger, our athletic programs get stronger.”
Even with the announcement, he said, Kansas Athletics continues to work hard to raise money in a difficult environment.
“I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we’re flush with money and money’s hanging out all our doors, because that’s not accurate,” he said, adding that without the project, they could not have made the donation to KU.
Elsewhere, other academic programs have been bolstered by athletics in recent months. At the University of Oklahoma, the athletic department recently announced it would increase its support of the university by $3 million annually in rough budget times.
Currently at KU, athletics provides support for scholarships and programming through licensing revenue, which generated more than $750,000 for KU last year after winning the national championship.
The department also pays for more than $11 million in tuition for student-athletes and maintenance of athletic facilities during the last academic year.