College athletics shaken up

Friday, February 26, 2010

While no massive temblors have been reported, ominous financial rumblings are creating cracks in the walls and shaking dishes off the shelves in college athletics these days. We’ll see a lot more wavy-gravy as struggling sports treasuries are further depleted.

So far we haven’t heard of personnel deletions or major operational cutbacks for Kansas University. If such is occurring, athletic director Lew Perkins and Co. are keeping them well under wraps. But I’ll bet there is more than a little dish-rattling in the Jayhawk nest, same as in other Big 12 Conference kitchens.

Item: Kansas State president Kirk Schulz announced a range of all-university cuts that will lessen the athletic department’s operating budget by 10 percent over the next two years, saving something like $310,000. KSU already has laid off some employees.

Item: Texas A&M in July wiped out 17 positions in the athletic department, noting it is facing a $4.5 million budget reduction.

K-State, floating around in the middle of the league’s financial pond, currently has a sports budget in the $40-$45 million range. Texas A&M is in the top five for the conference with about a $65 million outlay. It’s topped by Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (sugar-daddied by T. Boone Pickens). At last glance, the Kansas University sports outlay was in the $55-$60 million range.

What’s interesting is that K-State and A&M at one point didn’t have enough activities to create scholarships for women under Title IX and had to set up equestrian programs to fill in all the squares. Imagine what costs those operations must incur, with stables, vet care and the like. How long can that last?

Texas not only tops the Big 12 with a $130 million budget package but its portfolio is No. 1 in the nation, more than Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, all the other moneyed elite. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Okie State follow; A&M runs fifth in the league.

About the time Texas boosted the annual salary of football coach Mack Brown to an astounding $5 million, Gov. Rick Perry ordered the school to submit a plan to cut 5 percent of the sports budget funded by state money. Then, sob, it was announced that the already-bonus-babied Longhorn football staff won’t get any raises at least until September. Again, cry not. Most UT aides were rolling in dough to begin with.

A lot of the budgetary activity by schools is being done quietly. Texas Tech saved $50,000 by not putting out a media guide, and staff members were told to drive rather than fly to any destination of 400 miles or under. Even the filthy rich schools such as Ohio State not only have cut down on jobs but have trimmed traveling crews and entertaining as much as possible. Don’t be surprised to see KU invading similar venues.

KU’s Perkins is clearly a master fundraiser through programs like the Adidas and broadcast setups. But he’s had to pull in his horns on that $35 million Gridiron Club, and will see funding sources weaken until the economy refuels and stocks and such rise again.

Are we going to see KU announcing budgeting diets and personnel trimming? That glorious legendary goose has stopped laying golden eggs for a lot of nest-keepers. It’s unrealistic to think KU isn’t going to hear a lot more shaking of its terra firma.

Don’t forget to turn out the lights. Every little bit helps.