John Currie is a man on the move. The Kansas State athletic director has had few opportunities to slow down in the weeks since Frank Martin exited stage left on the way to South Carolina. In an interview with SiriusXM Sports, Currie talked about how he was able to oversee a revitalization of the K-State athletic department, which saw it go from a $2.8 million shortfall to a profit of over $23 million in three short years.
Currie is the first to defer credit to others, as he discusses how the turnaround happened. However, it would be a mistake to fail to recognize the pivotal role Currie has played in the transformation.
First, Currie recognized the importance of keeping the donor base happy. Given the financial issues brought on by the mismanagement of previous ADs, this was not an easy task. Yet Currie was able to regain the trust of the major donors (and, importantly, potential major donors) by simply “opening the books”, as it were. His complete transparency with regards to how and when donor money would be spent loosened a few purse strings that had been tightened in recent years.
This rise in donations led to a sharp increase in operating revenue, to around $70 million for the most recent fiscal year–an increase of 31% over the previous year. Of this total, donations accounted for $26.5 million, the largest single source of revenue for KSU’s athletic department. The donor base has never been so wide, and Currie’s leadership is a large reason why. Major donors–particularly after a fiscal scandal the size of the Ron Prince fiasco–want to know their money is in responsible hands. Currie provides them that security, and has thus overseen an expansion of the “grassroots base” of donors from 5,400 when he took over, to over 7,500 at present.
Finally, Currie has been able to trim department expenses–and excesses–in several ways. In his initial year, he made some difficult staff cuts, in order to trim expenses. The K-State athletic department staff is now the leanest in the Big 12, with only 132 full-time staff members. He was also able to trim expenditures in other areas, such as the recruiting budgets of revenue-generating sports like football.
Over the last several weeks John Currie has incurred much criticism–some deserved, but much undeserved–for the high-profile decisions he has made. Allowing former head basketball coach Frank Martin to walk away will, in hindsight, be viewed much differently than it is in some quarters at present. Currie was working with a much larger plate of information than that which was publicly available to the fans (and media) who so strongly criticized him. That is the case, both when he chose not to make a counter-offer to compete with South Carolina, and when he chose Bruce Weber to helm the program after Martin’s departure.
Earlier this month, I wrote about some of that information (“The Cult Of Frank: Why He Really Left“), but I felt compelled to leave out nearly as much as I included in that story. Needless to say, despite the initial backlash he faced, history will vindicate Currie’s decision. In some ways, as we learn more about the financial acumen with which he runs the athletic department, that day of vindication has already arrived.