College Basketball Nation: Lew Perkins

On Tuesday, Kansas announced that athletic director Lew Perkins would be calling it a day a year early. Instead of retiring in September of 2011 -- after the 2010-11 football and basketball seasons had totally run their course -- Perkins would be retiring immediately. At the time, neither Perkins nor Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little made themselves available to reporters, leaving pretty much everyone wondering the same thing: Why?

The answer would seem to be obvious. Kansas spent most of its offseason looking into a rather disastrous ticket scandal. According to an internal investigation and an ongoing federal probe, Kansas employees illegally stole and sold as much as $3 million worth of tickets off the books. Perkins wasn't implicated, which is, um, good. But the thefts did happen on his watch, and Perkins called the news the most embarrassing episode of his long and otherwise successful career.

Put all that together, and the answer to "why?" seems pretty easy to deduce.

Which is probably why Gray-Little spoke with the Associated Press today. She didn't really answer the question, but she did tell the AP that the federal probe and ticket scandal had nothing to do with why Perkins retired a year early. This is pretty much all we got:
The chancellor at the University of Kansas says the abrupt retirement of athletic director Lew Perkins was not connected with a federal investigation into a ticket scam.

That's not really much to go off, and most cynics probably won't believe it, but it's better than no answer at all, I guess.

Whatever the reason, the quick, surprising retirement is an unfortunate way for Perkins to end his career. In toto, Perkins' tenure at Kansas was wildly successful. He retained Bill Self when other programs -- including the ultra-rich, T. Boone Pickens-backed Oklahoma State Cowboys -- were moving in for the poach. He expanded the Kansas athletics budget from $27 million to $55 million during his time at the school. He built new athletics facilities. He oversaw a resurgent football program and then handled that resurgent program's coach -- remember the Mark Mangino meltdown? -- in commanding fashion.

And, oh yeah, the Jayhawks won a national title on his watch. There's that, too.

Because of the sudden retirement, and the ticket scandal, and whatever relation those two have to each other, Perkins will be remembered for far more than his successes. That's only fair. Still, Kansas fans would probably do well to remember Perkins' better moments, too. The good times were far more common than the bad.
Any time you hear the words "ticket" and "scalp" in the same sentence, the neck hairs tend to stand up. The Kansas ticket fraud scandal that rocked the Jayhawks athletic department in May (and might have had something to do with KU athletic director Lew Perkins' decision to retire in September of 2011) only added to a long history of negative, sketchy associations surrounding the practice of buying and selling tickets on the secondary market.

Outside stadiums, this is no big deal. It hasn't been a big deal for a very long time. But in college sports, the stakes are different; the practice of giving tickets to boosters and families belies commercialization and creates the potential for big problems if those tickets start drifting into the wrong hands. Like, you know, at Kansas. It would probably be better for everyone if, like most professional sports, college sports worked with a legitimate broker and brought its secondary ticket market into the open.

Which brings us to our "Did you know?" of the day: Did you know that since 2007 the NCAA has partnered with a secondary market ticket broker at NCAA Final Four events? It's true:
The NCAA in 2007 enlisted the Razorgator online exchange service as its "official ticket and hospitality package provider" for the men's Final Four. The deal has since been extended to include the women's Final Four, the College World Series, Frozen Four hockey tournament and the remaining four rounds of March Madness.

Greg Shaheen, an NCAA senior vice president, said the association was tired of watching secondary market ticket sellers profit off the NCAA's name and reputation. He said the partnership with Razorgator also allows the NCAA to limit ticket fraud. "It acknowledges reality," Shaheen said. "Our goal is to provide a legitimate, safe, guaranteed means by which those transactions occur."

The Final Four is a pretty unique situation. There are thousands of fans who purchase tickets in the hopes their teams advance to Monday night's title game; when that doesn't happen, plenty of those fans are ready to sell their wares, pack their things, and get back to the depressing fact that work starts again on Monday. Letting all those tickets go through an unsupervised outside influence (or, more likely, the hundreds of outside influences that stand outside arenas and shout "I got tickets! I need tickets! Who's selling? Who needs tickets?" which is always inherently hilarious) is just a bad idea.

This isn't limited to the NCAA, or the Final Four. In 2007, after years of fighting tooth and nail with the secondary market, Major League Baseball partnered with Stubhub. This has gone incredibly well:
Bob Bowman, the CEO of MLB Advance Media, the arm of the sport that runs MLB.com, said most teams have come to the realization that the secondary market is a benefit, not a blow. "We're in the secondary market whether we embraced it or not," he said. "There's no one who can go to all 81 games. The clubs don't benefit from tickets in the drawer."

Bowman acknowledged that at least some of the credit for teams selling a record number of tickets again this year is due to the rapid growth of online ticket resales on StubHub and similar services. "Without question, the increasing knowledge that there is a vibrant, safe, legal liquid market for the tickets encourages our fans to buy season ticket packages, since they know they can recoup some of those costs."

All of which is a long way of saying that individual schools should start doing this, too. Some already are: Stubhub currently partners with 13 schools, with Alabama, Louisville, Purdue, Stanford, USC and Wisconsin among them, to sell secondary tickets. Theoretically, that should help athletic departments like Kansas' avoid ticket fraud. Why buy a ticket from a dude "with a connection" when you can go online and find your seat with the click of a button?

It won't completely kill ticket fraud, but it should help bring the process out of the dark ages and into the 21st century. Then shady dudes with questionable tickets won't have a place to peddle their wares, Kansas won't hemorrhage millions in ticket sales, and athletic directors won't have to spend as much time overseeing their ticket operations for fear of losing their jobs. Boosters can use the Internet, too! Everybody wins!

Well, except for the shady dudes. But they'll get over it, I'm sure.

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