Perkins to remain until September 2011

Updated: June 11, 2010, 12:19 AM ET
Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins will retire next year, ending a highly successful but sometimes-stormy 43-year career in sports administration.

The 65-year-old Perkins made the announcement in a statement released through the school, one day after he was cleared of accepting free use of gym equipment in exchange for favors and the same day the Big 12 began to break apart with Colorado's defection to the Pac-10.

Perkins plans to remain at Kansas until September 2011 so that he can help the school through the thorny issue of conference realignment. Nebraska is reportedly heading for the Big Ten and several other schools are being courted by other conferences.

"I have loved my time here at the University of Kansas and I will continue leading Kansas Athletics over the course of the next year," Perkins said in the statement.

"My greatest priority is working on conference alignment issues, and as I've committed to the chancellor, I will work tirelessly on these efforts."

Since Perkins arrived from Connecticut in 2003, Kansas has experienced unprecedented growth and success but also angered many alumni by putting in a "points system" that gives favorable seating to people who contribute the most money to the school.

Two years ago, after the Jayhawks won the Orange Bowl and the NCAA basketball championship, Perkins was named by Time Magazine as the No. 1 administrator in college sports. Seizing the good will brought by the school's greatest year in athletics, Perkins launched a building program that brought facilities out of the 1960s -- including a $31 million football facility.

Yet, recent months have been taxing on the Chelsea, Mass., native. Besides the charges of a former employee regarding free use of gym equipment, the university has been rocked by a federal probe into a widespread scam involving the sale of basketball and football tickets.

Five employees, including some of Perkins' closest aides, have been fired. An independent investigation commissioned by the school said the scam went on at least from 2005-10 and may have cost the school $3 million. The FBI is investigating the allegations and Perkins had to testify last week before a grand jury.

Perkins has not been implicated, but many have called for his firing for lack of oversight.

In addition, Kansas suffered through an embarrassing football season that ended in a long losing streak and the firing of coach Mark Mangino, two seasons after he had been voted the consensus national coach of the year.

About the same time, Perkins' sister died, adding more grief to what he told The Associated Press has been the worst year of his professional life.

In a conversation with an AP reporter last week, Perkins began weeping and said the support of family and friends had enabled him to get through it all. "I hate to use the word 'victim,' " he said, dabbing at his eyes. "People think I've done something wrong. But I'm the victim here."

In fact, Lawrence police are now investigating Perkins' charge that he was blackmailed by a former employee in connection with the gym equipment incident.

The employee had alleged Perkins received the equipment at his home in 2005 in exchange for giving the owners of Medical Outfitters, of Lenexa, preferential treatment for men's basketball tickets. Perkins and a company co-owner denied it, and Kansas said Wednesday its internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. Perkins recently paid a $5,000 rental fee for the equipment, which was removed from his home by 2009.

On Thursday, the athletics department released invoices showing it purchased $280,000 worth of equipment from Medical Outfitters in 2007.

The invoices, released in response to an Associated Press open records request, show the department bought nearly $91,000 worth of X-ray equipment and $189,000 worth of whirlpools, machines, player taping stations, cabinets and other items. The records show the equipment was discounted about $41,000, for a total cost of $239,000.

Perkins was not available for comment Thursday evening. A telephone message was left at the home of Medical Outfitters co-owner Mark Glass.

Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she was not aware of the purchases until Thursday afternoon.

"Whether it constitutes a conflict of interest depends on the reason for the spike in business," she said. "That occurred during a time of expansion in athletics."

Gray-Little, who has been a staunch ally of Perkins, said earlier that he led the school "during a time of remarkable growth and success" and called his decision a surprise.

"I have not asked him to retire, and I have not asked him to resign," she said.

Perkins had a meeting with her Thursday at which she expected him to talk about Big 12 matters and conference realignment. Instead, she said, he told her of his plans to retire.

"I was not expecting this," she said. "I was surprised by it."

Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self said Perkins had mentioned the possibility of retirement to him over the past year and seemed in good spirits and at peace with the decision.

Asked if he might leave because of Perkins' retirement, Self emphatically said no.

"His situation is totally independent of mine and vice versa," Self said.

Board of Regents member Ed McKechnie, a former Kansas House member, said Perkins' decision allows him to focus on conference realignment, which he called "the biggest issue we have right now in athletics."

"There've been a lot of distractions in the past month," McKechnie said. "Lew's very talented. Whether he was distracted -- I couldn't go to Bob's Grill without having people talk to me about it."

McKechnie said Perkins has made a good decision.

"I know Lew's a fighter," McKechnie said. "I knew he would have stayed and fought if he thought it was the right thing."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press