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Friday, April 14, 2017

Fix UofL Athletics?

At a University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting earlier this week, Board member John Schnatter -- of Papa John's Pizza fame -- said the following in an open session (link includes live video from the open part of the Board meeting):
“The athletics thing scares me … Until you fix athletics, you cannot fix this university,” Schnatter said.... 
[Interim University President] Postel, in an unrelated presentation during the meeting, said the university has an urgent need for operating cash in case of an emergency. 
Schnatter interjected, linking the university’s cash needs to the ongoing expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where the Cards play football. 
“We’re doing this by the skin of our teeth. We’re going to put $60 million in a stadium – by the way, it’s my stadium,” Schnatter said, laughing. “And we’re $5 million over budget and we’ve got 10 days cash on hand.** That’s crazy.”
Much of the reporting about Schnatter's remarks made it seem as if no one understands what he was talking about: "Pressed for plausible explanations of Schnatter’s statements, insiders have spent a lot of time scratching their heads and studying possible scenarios."

In his column in today's sports page, Tim Sullivan speculated about several angles that parallel my own thinking and writing about this topic:
This much, though, is plain: with revenues rising at the top tier of college athletics (by $304 million for the 50 power conference schools in 2015), the quasi-amateur sports arms race strikes more and more observers as obscene. Dollars devoted to attracting recruits and rewarding coaches with ever-glitzier facilities and ever-sweeter pay packages are inconsistent with the experiences of other students and staff and only available because of an athletic program’s affiliation with a specific school
Too often, though, administrators at those schools have little say over whether those dollars might serve some higher purpose somewhere else on campus. Those athletic departments that retain nearly all of the money they generate, often while appropriating student fees and off-loading certain expenses on the university’s general fund, essentially operate in a parallel universe that can be a burden on the rest of the university
If that’s what Papa John is talking about, that’s a subject worth discussing, and one that applies to many major schools. 
University of Louisville, confronting a $48 million budget cut, needs to have this conversation immediately.

** Officials said at the meeting that the University actually now has 35 days of cash on hand -- thanks apparently to a recent hiring freeze accompanied by increased scrutiny on unit spending. Here's a November 2016 press release from Moody's explaining about why this number is important.

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