Archive for Saturday, October 31, 2009

University leaders feel powerless to curb athletic excesses

October 31, 2009


It’s a sad story.

The question of who is running our universities and colleges was answered fairly clearly earlier this week by two news reports from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Miami.

One report told of a survey of presidents and chancellors at “top level” NCAA schools. These executives said they wanted “serious changes” in policies related to intercollegiate sports BUT they “don’t see themselves as the force for change needed, nor have they identified an alternative force they believe could be effective … beyond limited actions they can take on their own campuses.”

The co-chairman of the Knight Commission, William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland, said the presidents say they are powerless on an individual basis to make the changes that need to be made. He called the findings of the survey “really eye-opening and quite troubling.” He said the continuing increase in spending is “indefensible and a basically unsustainable situation.”

In follow-up interviews to the survey, the presidents and chancellors said athletic departments’ reliance on outside income such as large TV contracts “have diminished presidents’ authority over athletics and their ability to influence reform.”

According to the Knight Commission report, more than half of the presidents and chancellors said that, as the use of outside income sources to pay coaches has increased, “their control over these salaries has decreased.”

The report said 85 percent of the presidents believe salaries for football and basketball coaches are “excessive in the context of higher education” and “are seen as the greatest impediment to sustainability” of athletic programs.

The second news report told of the desire of major college athletic directors to initiate cost-cutting measures that would “touch every sport, including football.”

The athletic directors outlined a seven-part plan to reduce costs that then was presented to Knight Commission members by Dutch Baughman, executive director of the 1A Athletic Directors’ Association.

Changes suggested by the athletic directors included limiting the number of players on travel squads, cutting “non-traditional” playing seasons such as out-of-season exhibition games in some sports, eliminating foreign team travel, eliminating sport-specific administrative personnel, eliminating off-campus housing before home games and reducing the number of regular season contests, although this would not include football.

All of this sounds good, but the athletic directors acknowledged it would be difficult to implement such changes. The Big 10 Conference commissioner, Jim Delany, called cutting costs at a national or conference level “a contact sport.”

He said, “Unless you are ready to deal with power coaches, boosters, board members and the public — we’re talking about in a conflict-rich environment — don’t take it on.” He added, “It’s easier to generate revenue than to cut costs. I’m being honest with you.”

The college presidents and chancellors, along with the athletic directors, acknowledge the growing “arms race” among universities to field winning athletic programs has reached dangerous levels. The athletic directors said they know they face a dangerous situation, but the Big 10 commissioner said it is easier to raise more money to pay excessive coaches’ salaries and build massive new athletic facilities than it is to cut costs.

Again, it’s a sad story. Those engaged in the out-of-control situation say they know it is a problem but someone else is going to have to solve it. Someone else, not the coaches, athletic directors, chancellors or presidents. Someone else.

What this says is that sports — the dollars going to sports and those receiving those dollars — are in control of these universities. If coaches, athletic directors, presidents, chancellors and conference commissioners can’t come up with the answers, it’s a sure bet neither can, nor will, the regents, curators or trustees of these schools.

What is an incoming chancellor such as Kansas University’s Bernadette Gray-Little expected to do? Spending at the KU athletic department is tremendous: football and basketball coaches are in the multimillion-dollar range, the athletic director’s salary dwarfs the chancellor’s salary, and plans call for future spending to make the university’s athletic plant one of the nation’s finest.

Plans call for a large “Gridiron Club” to be added to the east side of Memorial Stadium, and the university (athletic department) is asking Lawrence city officials to realign the intersection at 11th and Mississippi streets to make it easier for those paying big dollars to park and access the new club.

Where does it stop, and how is this affecting giving for the universities’ academic and research programs?

Many of those characterized by the Knight Commission as power coaches, along with boosters, board members, the public and athletic directors themselves are at the center of the storm. The almighty dollar calls the shots these days, whether it is for new facilities, salaries or even the ability to buy prime seats at the football or basketball games.

When will this madness end? When will the public, state legislators and some fearless chancellors or presidents say it must be stopped and then take action to show their concern is far greater than just nice-sounding words?


Godot 8 years, 7 months ago

The athletic corporations are big, big business. Tax them as any other big business is. Remove them from state support entirely.

Hoots 8 years, 7 months ago

Good editorial. It amazes me the amount spent on sport in this country period. We pay people insane amounts of money for a game. I like watching a KU game as much as the next fan but where does it end? Our priorities are all backwards in so many ways. It's a bit like spending money on beer and smokes instead of food and cloths.

georgiahawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Is Dolph advocating an anti-free market solution?

cowboy 8 years, 7 months ago

allow the athletic programs a cost plus budget. any revenue over the cost plus figure is returned to the university. AD's have become entirely too powerful in using institutional monies to build fiefdoms. Yeah you Lew !

nobody1793 8 years, 7 months ago

Ok, if the athletic program went away tomorrow, how does that improve academics? Do you really think more money would start flowing to the English department? Do you think the professors would bust their humps even more? Would the students suddenly start...(gulp)...studying? Really?! Please.

Tony Kisner 8 years, 7 months ago

A true de-coupling of athletics from the colleges will take place. I am in the development stages of creating a market place in which shares of college teams can be traded as easily as you would trade IBM, including derivatives.

It will work like this – let’s say you are a fan of University B, but your team is down and a quick turn around is unlikely. University A is a rising power, or perennial power, you can sell your shares in Team B and purchase Team A, for the rights of ownership you can re-name the better team to your mascot. The up-side is now you support a winner, right away, you can tell your co-workers, potential clients etc. – yes my team is better than any other. The derivative market would allow the option owner to declare him/herself to be a fan of another college team but without the naming rights. Instead you would receive a certificate indicating while you did not attend a certain U you are a big fan and as such should receive all of the accolades showered upon the actual attendees of same U. After all it is not like you actually would have had the opportunity to sit in a class, discuss a recent lecture over a beer, live in the same dorm or eat at the same dining room with the players at the U you actually attended any way so what is the difference? You don’t actually know the players and they sure as hell don’t know you. This way you can for the simple price of an option take the name of a successful program as yours and declare yourself a winner, with a certificate as documentation.

This is the future, near future if all works well. Instant success for those willing to pay, no pressure on school presidents as the athletic department would now be a publicly traded entity with no association with the U except for lucrative trademarks and IP rights.

imastinker 8 years, 7 months ago

I think these departments should have to pay taxes and money to the university for rent and trademark use.

The department should be responsible to the university leadership but not funded by tax dollars. They have taken the profitable part of the college and separated it to keep the pot separate to get more money from the state - and that's what has happened.

gccs14r 8 years, 7 months ago

The people who are supposed to be in charge do have the power to pull the plug on athletics in their entirety. That's the sledgehammer approach, but it should get someone's attention.

Phillbert 8 years, 7 months ago

I find it hilarious that someone whose newspaper has shrunk in almost every area but the sports section, and whose name appears on a number of commemorative plaques in KU Athletic facilities as a result of his donations, now thinks that there is too much focus on athletics.

I also find it surprising that, in talking about the Gridiron Club, he "forgets" to mention the $40 million for academic programs that project will generate. Wait, I'm actually not surprised about that.

pace 8 years, 7 months ago

My first thought is the University powers should do their duty and expel many but I know that the honorable ones would be or have been replaced by ones that toad the line.

Robert Rauktis 8 years, 7 months ago

Tax them like the businesses they are. None of this Crystal Cathedral nonsense.

And the last time I looked, public money built AFH AND Memorial Stadium. Why do they get free room and board?

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 7 months ago

Another rambling, inconsistent editorial from Mr. Simons.

What we are witnessing in college athletics is the result of free market workings. There is a big demand for the product, so there is big money, so there is an arms race to do what is necessary to capture that money.

Its called capitalism and the free market.

Mr. Simons is probably correct that it needs to be regulated. Gosh, what do we call those who want to regulate the free market in this country?

Mr. Simons, you are a socialist.

Godot 8 years, 7 months ago

Pilgram2, in the context of your history of posts, you are completely out of character on this issue.

I repeat, JackRipper is right.

KU_cynic 8 years, 7 months ago

Just end the tax deduction for gifts to college athletic programs for any use other than scholarships, which gifts already fund many times over at KU. Members of the Williams Club shouldn't get the same tax benefits as donors to genuinely charitable organizations any more than premium seatholders at Yankee Stadium should.

Likewise, income-generating properties such as Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse should be subject to property taxes. The activities that take place inside those facilities do not deserve the same tax treatment as churches, charitable clinics, and homeless shelters.

Make those adjustments, and if big dollar donors still want to spend their money on childish pursuits in a world of human suffering and genuine needs that do not get enough financial help, well it's a free country.

WilburM 8 years, 7 months ago

KU cynic -- definitely on the right path. Tax deductions for athletic donations to a private entity, not controlled by the University. When the Athletic Dept wants to be a public entity, it is; when it's better to be private it is. Let them decide, and then play by the same set of rules.

BTW, there are many studies that find no link between athletic success and contributions to acaademic programs.

kujayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

I agree coaches salaries are out of control. To be fair, though, you can fire coaches, their work is put on display each week and one year of work equals about 3 or 4 years for these professors

kujayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

And to the person who said the athletic programs should have to pay for the use of the "trademark." Without the athletic teams and it's free advertising for the university, nobody knows about the jayhawk, the majority of people outside the state of Kansas are unaware of the University of Kansas and the trademark has no value.

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