Sports-Universities Incest & Greed

This was the headline on the front page of the sports section of the 23 June Lexington[Kentucky] Herald-Leader: A.D. Celebrates Partnership. Accompanying the article is a mile-wide-smile picture of the athletic director at the University of Kentucky and the caption “Mitch Barnhart’s department will contribute $3 million to scholarships.” Try not to gag. It was Barnhart who fired the basketball coach two seasons ago…oh yes…and gave him $3 million for the privilege. Some partnership! Everything carrying the UK name belongs to the university, so Barnhart wasted $3 million that could have gone for academic scholarships three years ago.

According to the article, UK President Capiluto asked Barnhart if he could “do something,” presumably about the financial constraints into which UK is currently mired, as are virtually all universities. On paper, the athletic department is somehow disconnected from the university and has its own budget but is the tail that wags the dog. Reading between the lines, one suspects Capiluto made it plain to Barnhart that he was not mincing words, if indeed the two even had that conversation.

UK joins most universities, especially in the Southeast Conference, in corruption so palpable as to bounce off the walls. Capiluto began a change last fall when he persuaded the heretofore athletic-rubber-stamp board of trustees to dissolve the UK Athletic Association, over which Barnhart has been the emperor since he was hired in 2003, with UK paying off $100,000 to his former employer, Oregon State, since Barnhart walked out on his contract. Surprised? Contracts mean nothing in the world of sports.

The athletic department is awash with funds owing to the fact that college/university games have become entertainment gold-mines, with millions of TV dollars, as per conference rules, flowing to the universities or their “disconnected,” front organizations such as the former UKAA. Capiluto may have decided to gradually do what a former Vanderbilt University president did a few years ago, make the athletic department directly responsible to him, not some organization of fat-cats and grossly overpaid athletic department parasites out to milk the system for all it can.

The UK athletic department has 167 employees, give or take a few at any one time. University presidents are often complicit in the down-and-dirty game. For instance, just before he retired and without a word to the board of trustees in 2011, former UK president Lee Todd raised Barnhart’s base salary from $475,000 to $600,000 (for losing $3 million?), a whopping increase of 26% overnight and “extended” his contract by three years to 2019, worded, ironically, so that if Barnhart should be let go by Capiluto he would be well-paid (could be millions) for the trouble.

As a further example of corruption, the board of trustees awarded Todd $825,138 cash when he stepped down in June 2011, about half of it in the form of a contract-provision “retention bonus” (he stayed on the job for ten years). This is the way business is done in the universities, much if not most of the shakedown accounted for vaguely as bonuses, no matter how poorly the job has been done…the good ole boy network in full sleaze. Oh yes, Todd then went on staff at a cool $162,000 per year.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader of 18 June, Todd’s predecessor stayed on for two years as a fundraiser of sorts at a cool $265,000, with about the only record being a record of expenses, and then stayed on from2003 until this month at $212,484 per year as a tenured associate professor at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College and [supposedly] researching for a book with the dean of libraries. It’s not known here if he taught any classes. One wonders if a book will ever make the scene. The H-L: “The university has struggled at times to quantify the specifics of Wethington's work since he left the president’s office.” Yeah!

The base salary of both the football and basketball coach is $400,000, with the former actually raking in $1.7 million and the latter closer to $3.7 million, each doing endorsements, talk-shows, etc., for extra money. According to USA Today (10 November 2009), on the UK football team in 2009 there were some nine(?) assistant coaches making a total of $1,946,213, the least paid at $159,625 and the best paid at $323,460, with the average at $216,245. Current figures are hard to come by but they doubtlessly are much higher.

Presently, there are also a grad assistant, student assistant and three video analysts, for a total of 15 staffers to handle 85 full-scholarship football athletes, though only eleven can be on the field at any one time. The basketball coach has three assistants, a special assistant (whatever that is), a strength coach and a trainer. The prime responsibility of probably most assistant coaches is recruiting. After all, how long does it take an already well-trained linebacker to learn how to knock down a wide receiver and, hopefully, give him a concussion in the bargain?

President Capiluto has already learned that UK, like all SEC schools but Vanderbilt, is always to be suspected of athletic-department skullduggery in finances, recruiting. Presidents usually have the prerogative of hiring the athletic director. The Todd-Barnhart institutional incest and greed are obvious at UK.