Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Donor wants control of football program

by Tom Grant
Phd Student, Center for ETHICS*

Another PhD student and I were arguing today about multi-million dollar salaries for college football coaches. I complained that if most college athletic programs are lose money, as the NCAA president says, then it didn't make sense to pay such huge salaries to coaches. He said a lot of the money to pay the coaches was coming from outside sources, including athletic boosters.

A few hours later, ESPN posted this article on a donor from Connecticut who wanted a $3 million dollar contribution returned because he wasn't allowed to have any influence when the university hired its new football coach. The donor was Robert Burton, chief executive officer of Greenwich, Conn.-based Burton Capital Management.

The ESPN story read:

"Burton called the situation 'a slap in the face and embarrassment to my family,' and said he planned 'to let the correct people know that you did not listen to your number one football donor.' He called the search process flawed.'We want our money and respect back,' Burton wrote to [UConn Athletic Director Jeff] Hathaway."

Burton isn't the only booster who is said to want a big hand in major sports operations. Phil Knight of Nike has given millions to the University of Oregon, and is said to have a hand in many sport decisions at the school. Some worry that T. Boone Pickens, who gave $165 million to the athletic department of Oklahoma State University, has too much control there.

Yet with rising costs and state budget cuts, athletic departments are becoming increasingly dependent upon outside donations. Institutions have commonly sold the naming rights to stadiums and buildings as one way of attracting major contributions. Perhaps the era is already upon us when hiring rights to coaches are also being sold to donors. My friend believes he once lost a coaching job because a donor made the call.

It would make things so much easier if they'd just let donors hang their shingle on the coach, like they do on bowl games and buildings.

I can hear the commentators now: "The Burton Capital Management UConn Football Coach has just asked the referee for a time out...."

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