May 28, 2023

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Money and Corruption

It would be great if there was as much interest, enthusiasm and public concern about the academic excellence of our colleges and universities as there is about the athletic excellence at these schools.

This week’s news about the FBI’s investigation of bribery, fraud and corruption associated with college basketball programs was front page news throughout the country.

Hard core sports fans probably were not too shocked by the FBI findings as there have been so many questionable and shady actions in the college basketball arena that many probably wonder why it has taken so long to expose college basketball’s dirty laundry.

It is likely additional high profile college basketball programs, along with high school and professional programs, will be tied to the investigation. Hopefully, the highly successful Kansas University basketball program will not be tarnished by FBI findings.

Initial reports about FBI actions indicate the athletic sportswear company, Adidas, is deeply involved in the corruption story. It is ironic that at the same time the basketball scandal erupted, KU athletic officials announced they had agreed to a 12-year extension of their contract with Adidas that will pay the athletic department $191 million over the next 14 years. Some years ago KU had a similar contract with Nike, the giant sportswear/equipment company, but the KU athletic director made a surprise move to Adidas which caused some to wonder what might have triggered the change.

It is interesting to note KU is the only school in the Big 12 Conference to have a contract with Adidas.

There is tremendous pressure in college sports to win. Alumni, students, fans, financial donors, businesses associated with athletic programs, retail businesses in the college towns, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors and presidents, parents of highly touted high school athletes, agents, television and radio networks, equipment manufacturers and even architects and builders of football and basketball arenas all want their teams to win.

In this environment the dollars are immense – billions – and how these dollars are used often means the difference between winning and losing. How much non-salary money is being pocketed by the non-athletes such as athletic department officials, those who negotiate contracts with equipment manufacturers, those who negotiate television and radio broadcast rights, sponsors, those who schedule opponent teams….all dealing in millions of dollars. At this time there is no way of knowing how wide and deep the FBI investigation will spread but there probably are hundreds, thousands, of individuals, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors, players, donors and businesses tied directly to a college sports program who are extremely nervous. Perhaps so nervous some are taking advantage of the offer by FBI officials urging individuals to provide information about wrongdoings that might help lessen their levels of punishment.

College basketball is in the headlines today. How long will it be before college football is tied to the corruption investigation? For years the excesses in college sports have been overlooked and justified because “everyone does it” or “the need to keep up with our competitors”.

A good example of keeping up with the competition now is underway at KU with the $350 million project to renovate and expand Memorial Stadium, along with improvements of other athletics facilities….even faster elevators for those using special suites at the stadium.

Today “sports” at most every level are under the public spotlight. Current concerns include growing reports of long-lasting serious brain injuries due to extreme shocks in several sports; players and coaches using crowded stadiums and millions of television viewers to demonstrate their political concerns; and the question of whether college players should be looked upon as paid employees for their services in football, basketball and other money-generating sports.

If corrections and improvements are to be made, where will they start? It all revolves around money. The size of paychecks for coaches usually depends on whether they can field winning teams. The same applies to athletic directors. The smart ones hire winning and costly coaches, those who don’t usually are fired, along with the coaches they hired. These men and women know they must win to hold onto their jobs. Winning coaches attract good players. Who is going to change the rules? The government, the FBI, the NCAA, Regents, chancellors, the public?

Television networks that pay hundreds of millions to televise basketball and football games want winning programs. What happens when there is little excitement or interest in dull games, mediocre players and poor coaches? Those schools lose the big dollars with TV moving to winning programs.

It’s a vicious circle with chancellors saying winning programs help create interest, pride, fiscal support for their schools and help for local businesses. Therefore, it is important to do what is necessary to field a winning team.

However, it is important to note winning teams attract crowds whether in old or new stadiums. A new stadium is no guarantee of winning. A good coach is the first ingredient. By the way, “attendance” figures for recent KU football games are misleading. There’s a difference between tickets sold and how many people show up for the game.

The fear of conference realignment and the possibility of KU being dropped out of the Big 12 prompts some to say a winning football program is necessary to stay in a Power Five Conference and this is why a new stadium is important.

It would be interesting to know the priority or rankings of importance….being in a Power Athletic Conference or being a member of the Association of American Universities.

As the lyrics say, “money makes the world go round”. In light of the FBI investigation, this certainly applies to colleges and universities and how they allocate their dollars.