The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, June 15, 2007


Today's Toledo Blade reports on a brewing scandal at the University of Toledo:
When the University of Toledo men’s basketball team traveled to the Virgin Islands for an early season tournament in November, the coaches’ wives, the athletic director’s family, and a UT athletic donor accompanied the team on its chartered flight.

So did an associate athletic director’s girlfriend, a team psychologist’s girlfriend, and a team spokesman’s wife.

The two girlfriends, the spokesman’s wife, and the donor were ultimately billed for the trip and paid the UT Foundation — not the university itself — from $1,051 to $3,046 for air travel and hotel costs.

The coaches’ and athletic director’s families flew and stayed at the hotel for free.

None of this is illegal, and university regulations are unclear on the matter, but the president is not happy (and neither should the students, given they massively fund the athletic program through general fees). This kind of shenanigans also went on with the football program.

UT is not the only institution that does this kind of stuff; an Ohio State administrator was quoted as saying it's part of the cost of doing business. However, that attitude isn't universal, even at the biggest schools:
But at the University of Michigan, donors and coaches’ wives seldom travel with the football team during the regular season.

Bruce Madej, spokesman for the University of Michigan athletic department, said Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr’s wife, Laurie, had only traveled with the team to two regular-season road games in the last 10 years.

Mr. Madej also said only a few donors have flown with the team during that time.
According to an friend who works as an academic advisor at UM, it took a major overhaul of the athletic department a few years back to get its finances in the black. Note that they did not cut any sports while accomplishing this feat.

And that's why I'm writing about this story. In 2002 Toledo cut several sports, most prominently the men's indoor and outdoor track programs. Just two days ago, University President Lloyd Jacobs ordered a "massive restructuring" of the athletic department due at least in part to this problem (but more likely because of issues with the team doctor and an FBI probe of a point-shaving scheme). This leads us to two questions.

1) How much money did the athletic department waste on travel giveaways?
Considering the relatively meager savings you get from canceling a men's track program, maybe the amount required to keep it running. Maybe not. But Michigan showed that if you need to control costs, you can find the savings and maintain competitiveness without killing sports.

But more importantly,
2) What does it take to get the president's office involved in intercollegiate athletics?
Johnny Law. Apparently cutting four sports is not percieved as a sign of an athletic department horrendously out of control, but it should be. It's a sign that a program that was able to operate within its means for decades can longer control its finances.

Remember back in 2003 when Vanderbilt closed down its athletic department and put the sports programs under the department of student life? Sports Illustrated reports that the move has given Vanderbilt an unexpected boost; overall, their programs are the better now than ever before.

SI leaves out some important information. Why did president Gordon Gee do such a thing? We can only speculate but I've got a pretty good idea. It should be remembered where Gee was before coming to Vanderbilt--Ohio State, which at the time was one of the most out-of-control athletic departments in the nation. At Vanderbilt, the student newspaper mocked Gee's decision with a satirical report of his death, but had he tried this trick at Ohio State his life probably really would have been in danger.

As long as Ohio State, and not Vanderbilt, is the model for Division I-A schools to emulate, programs will still be cut and they'll still tell us it's Title IX. Don't believe it for a second. It's crap like this that caused their death.

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