Editorial: It is the wrong time to spend $600K on an assistant football coach at KU

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

On Feb. 3, members of the Kansas Athletics Inc. board were told the sobering news: The University of Kansas’ athletic department is now expecting about a $30 million decline in revenues for its current fiscal year.

But on Feb. 4, surely they were cheered up if they took the time to read the Journal-World’s article detailing the contract of new KU football offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. He will be paid $600,000 a year. The guy he is replacing on the KU football staff was being paid $250,000 a year.

Ah, now that’s more like it. Somebody bring us another $15 platter of nachos from the concession stand and we can get back to living the good life.

Except, life is not good at the University of Kansas right now, and the situation above encapsulates it pretty well.

On Feb. 3, Kansas Athletic board members weren’t just told of the $30 million shortfall, but also were told that it is likely Kansas Athletics will have to start tapping its line of credit to make up for cash flow shortfalls. In other words, the organization will need to borrow money just to pay its basic bills. Yet, one position is getting a $350,000 pay increase.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the KU campus, if there is any talk of increases, it almost certainly is a reference to anger levels. KU already has cut jobs to deal with budget shortfalls, and now it is considering a plan that would allow those cuts to spread into the tenured faculty ranks. To no one’s surprise, the faculty is outraged. Faculty members certainly have good reason to be outraged at the Kansas Board of Regents. It was shameful how the board approved the idea for these types of cuts. It did so without having advertised that the decision would be up for a vote on its board agenda. (The Journal-World was at the meeting and covered it, but certainly there would have been more stakeholders there if the action had been listed on the agenda.)

KU officials are still crafting how they may use the newly granted authority, so it may be too early to pass judgment on that part of the topic. But it is not too early to pass judgment on the terrible optics that the situation above creates. It is just gut-wrenching to see a department that basically is in charge of extracurricular activities give a $350,000 raise to a midlevel staff position — borrowing money to cover its bills in the process — while the academic foundation of the university is attacked with a jackhammer.

Some may cast their anger toward Athletic Director Jeff Long. That’s probably misguided. For one, it should be noted that Long has been a better fiscal steward of athletic department resources than his predecessor. There have been cuts during this pandemic. It would have been wise for Long to veto the $600,000 hire, but if you put yourself in his shoes, you can see why he didn’t. Long is a smart man who surely understands that KU has to start winning some dang football games not just to placate fans, but to ward off the day that KU gets kicked out of the Big 12 Conference. If that day comes, the athletic department easily could become a financial burden to the university. It would have facility debt and expenses minus the revenue stream of a power five conference. That would look ugly.

The man whose shoes don’t fit for these times is Chancellor Douglas Girod. As the leader of the entire university, it should have been an easy call for him to quietly tell the athletic department that the budget for an offensive coordinator is far below $600,000 right now. Perceptions matter in situations like these, and Girod is not doing a good job managing them.

On Super Bowl Sunday, perhaps a quarterback analogy is appropriate. Good quarterbacks know you can lose a game and still win the season. But they also know that once you lose your huddle — the respect of those who gather around you waiting for direction — all is lost.

Girod is a quarterback who hasn’t been given good field position to work with. State financial support has been lacking, his state’s demographics are poor for a university, and a pandemic has created financial havoc. He can’t change that. You have to play the ball from where the referee spots it. But you can win your huddle. It is critical that the chancellor start doing so — much more so than winning actual football games.


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