If there’s a story that sums up all of the arrogance that I despise from college athletics administrators, this is it.
About 1,000 miles to the west in Lawrence, a battle to eliminate a student fee at the University of Kansas ended differently.
In two years as a walk-on golfer, Catt got an inside view of Kansas athletics and began to wonder why the department needed $50 from each student every year in addition to ticket payments.
In two years, Kansas athletics spent $9 million in severance on fired football coaches Mark Mangino and Turner Gill. When Catt did not notice any corresponding layoffs or cutbacks, he decided to do some research.
Catt reviewed financial statements that showed Kansas athletics income rose from $50.8 million in 2005 to $93.6 million in 2013. In early 2014, Catt sent a 35-page report to the student senate, arguing that the fee, which produced about $1.1 million for athletics, should be eliminated.
“Students were seeing a rise in tuition, more student debt . . . and the athletics department was making more and more money every year. It just didn’t seem like they needed it,” Catt said in an interview.
Catt’s report was persuasive. Students voted to kill the fee. Athletics administrators fought back, though, and eventually won a compromise from the chancellor that kept a reduced $12 fee. Ultimately, the change cost Kansas athletics about $350,000.
Kansas athletics administrators weren’t satisfied. A few months later, they eliminated one of the best student sections at men’s basketball games — 120 seats right behind the Jayhawks’ bench — and gave the seats to donors who contributed at least $25,000 per year.
“When the student government proposed [eliminating the fee] . . . it made it very clear that it wanted the athletic department to find other ways to raise revenue,” Kansas athletics spokesman Jim Marchiony told a local newspaper. “That’s what we did.”
When Catt talks about the experience today, one comment from a deputy athletics director sticks out in his mind.
“He told me, ‘We’re in the business of being great, and it costs money to be great,’ ” Catt recalled.
A few months later, Kansas fired football coach Charlie Weis, who won just six of 28 games at the school, taking on another $5 million in severance.
“It became clear in our meetings,” Catt said, “that normal economics don’t apply to anyone in Kansas athletics.”
Honestly, were I a Kansas student, the thought that part of my student loans went to pay Charlie Weis’ buyout would drive me to drink. Heavily.