Perkins Addresses Bond Between Academics and Athletics in Speech at KU's Dole Institute of Politics

April 13, 2010

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas Athletics Director Lew Perkins stressed the importance of the relationship between a university’s academic and athletics endeavors Tuesday night during an appearance at KU’s Dole Institute of Politics.

Perkins spoke as part of the Institute’s Leadership and Globalization in Sports series, which explores the broader economic, social and political impact of sports throughout the world. Former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was the series’ inaugural speaker in November 2008, followed by international mountain guide Robert Link in November 2009.

Interviewed before an audience of some 200 people by Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute, Perkins said strong academic programs make the athletics department better. “Sometimes potential donors tell us that they need to choose between giving to engineering, for example, and giving to athletics,” he said. “We tell them that if you give to engineering, you will make the university better, which will make athletics better. Student-athletes don’t come to a university just for athletics; they want great academic programs, too. We in athletics are proud to say that this university’s academic programs draw great student-athletes to our athletics program.”

Perkins and Lacy’s 45-minute discussion reviewed Perkins’ four-decades-long career in sports administration, which began when he took the position of athletics director and head basketball coach at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. Perkins also discussed his upbringing in Chelsea, Mass., near Boston. “It was a tough neighborhood from which very few went to college,” he said. “I was the first person in my family to attend college, and I can thank athletics for that.” Perkins was a highly recruited high-school basketball player who ultimately decided to play for Kansas alumnus Ralph Miller at the University of Iowa, where he earned a degree in recreational therapy.

During the discussion and a question-and answer session, Perkins touched on a wide range of topics, including:

  • Kansas Athletics’ Priority Points System, which gives the most generous donors first choice of seats in Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium: “We instituted the system soon after I arrived – maybe sooner than I would have liked – because we needed to raise money quickly in order to remain competitive in the Big 12 Conference. We had issues regarding such things as facilities and sports medicine that needed to be addressed quickly. I believe the points system will reap long-term benefits to our student-athletes, and that’s the most important thing.”
  • The recent settlement of a trademark-infringement lawsuit between Kansas Athletics and a local apparel manufacturer: “Our primary interest in this case was protecting KU’s marks. The University did a great job several years ago selecting one color of blue and one font. Could we have continued with the suit? Yes, but in the end it is our responsibility to protect KU’s marks, and we feel we did that.”
  • The recently announced investigation of the Williams Educational Fund and Kansas Athletics’ ticket office: “We recognize the concerns that our supporters and fans have. We’re reaching out to our donors to answer every question we can. I’m as embarrassed and upset about this as they are, and that’s why I immediately asked the Chancellor to authorize a thorough review. We may find that our procedures are not as good as we thought they were, but I can tell you that I will not tolerate illegal conduct – I never have, and I never will. We may have had some blind spots that we and our auditing firms did not catch over the years, but the important thing now is that we allow the review process to work. We will get to the bottom of this.”

Perkins has served as director of athletics at KU since June 2003. Since his arrival, Kansas Athletics has experienced unprecedented growth and academic achievement, has won two consecutive football bowl games for the first time in school history, and has captured six consecutive Big 12 Conference championships in men’s basketball (as well as the 2008 NCAA men’s basketball championship).

In 2008, Perkins topped the public voting in TIME Magazine’s online poll of the best sports executives in the world. He was the only college sports administrator to make TIME’s list of 35 individuals, which included team owners, team managers, league commissioners and other executives from around the world.