The University of Kansas this week said five former KU athletics staff members and a consultant were allegedly implicated in a scheme to sell 17,609 men’s basketball tickets and 2,181 football tickets from 2005-10. The total loss to the university is $1.03 million, though that figure could rise to $3 million, according to an investigation into the unauthorized sales.
The two-month investigation was commissioned by KU after officials learned that the former director of ticket operations, Rodney Jones, was under investigation by federal authorities. Federal authorities learned about the unauthorized sales after David R. Freeman, a developer with ties to KU athletics, told a Yahoo! Sports reporter about the operation.
According to Freeman, basketball brokers David and Dana Pump allegedly contacted Freeman’s former business partner, Roger Morningstar, in the winter of 2002 and asked him how to get extra Kansas postseason basketball tickets. The Pumps allegedly said money could be earned by selling these tickets above face value.
Morningstar knew Jones was friends with Freeman. Freeman allegedly asked Jones if he wanted to participate, and Jones agreed, and the first ticket scalping incident allegedly occurred during the Big 12 tournament in 2002.
KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins, formerly of UConn, said that Jones and the others implicated had found a way around the department’s auditing process.
“There is no question that our ticketing control, oversight and auditing had a blind spot,” he said in a statement. “We didn’t see it coming. Those are all answers. They are not excuses.”
In just one example cited by the report, Charlotte Blubaugh, the associate athletics director of ticket operations, allegedly circumvented auditors by taking advantage of loopholes in KU’s Paciolan ticketing system, which used to be owned by Ticketmaster during part of the alleged period in question. General accounts can be opened without identifying those who receive complimentary tickets. Blubaugh allegedly set up accounts with names like “RJDD,” which stood for Rodney Jones Donor Discretionary. $197,695 of men’s basketball tickets from the RJDD account allegedly went to ticket brokers.
In addition to Jones and Blubaugh, the others named in the report include Ben Kirtland, head of fundraising for Kansas Athletics Inc.; Brandon Simmons, assistant athletics director for sales and marketing; Jason Jeffries, assistant director of ticket operations; and Charlotte Blubaugh’s husband Tom Blubaugh, a contracted consultant.
KU officials said they were blindsided by the scheme. In a statement, Perkins said, “I accept responsibility, not for any criminal activity, but because I am the athletic director and it happened during my watch. I thought we had just about every safeguard in place, but nobody picked up on it. I certainly didn’t.”
Perkins either hired or promoted the KU officials named in the report. Kirtland had worked for Perkins at Connecticut. Perkins was unaware of Blubaugh’s ties to the athletic department despite the department paying him $115,000 during 2007-10.
The federal investigation has yet to conclude, but KU officials plan on preventing future indiscretions in their ticket operations by implementing several new policies, such as a tracking system for complimentary tickets, monthly ticket reconciliations, and hiring a full-time auditor to monitor donations, travel, and tickets.
The university also plans on taking legal action to recover lost money.
“These individuals used their positions for personal gain, going against the values of Kansas Athletics, violating the trust of KU fans and damaging the reputation of the entire university,” said Perkins.