Kansas Athletics, Inc., board discusses Big 12 growth

Friday, May 25, 2012

Conference realignment and Big 12 expansion continues to be one of the hot topics of discussion across the country, and both came up Thursday at the regularly scheduled Kansas Athletics, Inc., Board of Directors meeting.

However, while wild speculation about the Big 12 adding new members makes for exciting conversation, the conference is not the only thing that may be growing.

According to the financial report presented by senior associate athletics director Sean Lester at Thursday’s meeting, the cost of team travel is expected to increase by half a million dollars during the coming school year.

“There are several areas that the team travel budget is up,” said chief financial officer Pat Kaufman, who replaced the retired Susan Wachter and began working at KU on April 2. “The primary reason is the cost of fuel. That will impact both air and bus transportation.”

Kaufman was at Thursday’s meeting to help clarify the report he spent countless hours working on during the past couple of months. He also received high praise from Lester.

“Patrick brought several nuances to this,” Lester told the board. “After having the same person look at it for so many years, now we’ve got someone new looking at it, and that’s refreshing.”

To this point, KU has shelled out nearly $4.5 million on travel expenses for the fiscal year. The budgeted amount for next year is just under $5.1 million.

Lester offered another reason for the expected increase — the Big 12’s addition of West Virginia, which is located in more remote Morgantown, W.V., roughly 900 miles away from KU’s campus.

“You want to talk about costs of team travel,” Lester said. “That’s a big one.”

Thursday’s meeting, this year’s final gathering of the quarterly sessions, moved relatively fast and featured a number of quick-hitter updates from both athletic director Sheahon Zenger and chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

Zenger, during his AD’s comments, praised the men’s and women’s basketball teams for outstanding seasons and also tipped his cap to the baseball, softball and track and field teams for their continued progress. During his mention of the baseball program, Lester provided a live update of KU’s victory against Texas during the second day of the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.

Zenger also praised KU football coach Charlie Weis for his ability to connect with alumni and fans during a recent nine-day tour of Kansas which wrapped up Wednesday night in Kansas City.

“I can assure you,” Zenger said. “From Dodge City to Kansas City, the Jayhawk faithful are alive and well.”

So, too, is the Big 12 Conference, which Gray-Little seemed overjoyed to point out.

“The conference situation seems to be going well,” she said of the continued growth and stability of the league. “I think we have a really good relationship between our old members and the new members (TCU and West Virginia) and we’re hopeful that it will continue to go smoothly. We’re at the beginning of a very good time for the conference.”

After mowing through the first few agenda items in less than 20 minutes, the board went into executive session for 56 minutes and emerged with a motion to allow Zenger to sign off on the designing and planning of athletic facilities. The motion passed. At one point, Brad Nachtigal, associate AD for capital projects, left the executive session briefly and returned with an oversized sheet of paper folded in half. It was not known whether Thursday’s executive session discussion related to the Olympic Village proposal of the past or more recent talk about a new facility in northwest Lawrence.