Monday, November 26, 2012

Sports-Corruption Redux

It seems that the athletic departments of the Universities of Kentucky and Tennessee are competing to see which can provide the best soap opera in town. Their football coaches have already been fired, attendance at games has dropped dramatically, especially at Kentucky, and there seems to be a general malaise connected to each. Okay…the attendance at Tennessee averaged only 94,642 per game (102,000 capacity) last year but is somewhat worse than that this year.

It’s all about money. Translated, this often means it’s all about incompetence and overstaffing, to say nothing of salaries bloated all out of proportion. The guy in the hot seat is the athletic director, though the presidents are complicit in whatever he messes up. Not many years ago, the president of Vanderbilt did away with the athletic director’s office and put accountability in his own office.

Tennessee’s athletic department is enjoying a current deficit for 2011-12 of $3.98 million. The reason: It’s in the process of paying buyouts to the former coaches of football, basketball and baseball, as well as the former athletic director, all of whom were fired and paid handsomely for the privilege of getting the axe. The football coach, Philip Fulmer, had a 152-52 record over 17 years but that wasn’t enough to save him, fired in the middle of the 2008 season and paid $6 million in the bargain.

Making matters worse in the current firing of Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, the university must pay him a cool $5 million, thereby increasing overnight its deficit to some $9 million. Added to the millions he’s been paid during his three-year tenure, this little nest-egg means he will never have to work again unless he just wants to.

There’s practically a cottage industry conducted by athletic directors and coaches in the matter of hijacking the taxpayers’ money, using the pink-slip method. Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips (three seasons) is being paid $2.55 million for being fired but athletic director Mitch Barnhart will probably earn a bonus for being smart enough to fire Phillips for just that paltry amount.

Barnhart was smart enough to fire former basketball coach Billy Gillispie (two-year tenure – “he didn’t fit”) three years ago and the university had to pay Gillispie (and lawyers) only $3 million for that privilege, even though, unbelievably, there had never been a signed contract. Getting rid of two coaches in a four-year period for only $5.55 million marks Barnhart as surely one of the wisest athletic directors in the nation. It’s a shame he isn’t teaching in the economics department instead of wasting his administrative genius on sports.

Contracts mean nothing in college sports. In order to come to UK, Barnhart was required to pay $100,000 to Oregon State for jumping his contract. Not to worry, UK paid that $100,000 for Barnhart, so he’s cost the institution $5.65 million…BUT UK has not been in trouble with the NCAA during his tenure, meaning he’s been smart enough to have someone see that violations don’t occur…or at least can’t be far.

UK football coach Hal Mumme was fired in 2001 (before Barnhart’s tenure) and paid $1 million for that privilege. His immediate predecessor, Bill Curry, was fired but only for a measly $600,000. So…in the last 16 or so years, UK has paid a total of $7.25 million in buyouts to coaches it hired to extended contracts and then cancelled according to specifications noted in those contracts. Coaches and AD’s are smart enough to cover their backs financially.

UK paid Memphis State $200,000 to buy out current basketball coach John Calipari’s contract when Calipari came to UK in 2010, jumping his contract. So…the actual amount paid as an absolute loss financially stands at about seven-and-a-half million big ones. This is only what’s known about, considering the assistants who will be losing their jobs, but it’s only money. What could that squandered $7.5 million have meant academically, nearly all of it in just the last four years?

Just before he retired in 2011, UK Prexy Lee Todd, who had become Barnhart’s close friend (and benefactor), raised Barnhart’s salary by 26% to $600,000 (plus a myriad of “incentive” bonuses already in place) and locked him into his position until 2019, so firing him would be extremely costly.

On the basis of Wall Street establishments regarding huge bonuses for incompetence, Barnhart would probably own part of the UK campus by now. Currently, he’s among the highest paid AD’s in the SEC (second-highest last year).

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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