University Sports-Peccadilloes

The big news in sports these days has to do with the disposition toward brain damage caused by the inordinate number of concussions suffered by football players on all levels This seems to be leading to such maladies as Alzheimers in later years, as the connections in the brain are destroyed by the constant ruptures to tissue accruing to being knocked silly in the games. The most egregious latest example had to do with NFL Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis’s full-speed-shot-to-the-head of Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco (Johnson) that resulted in a $25,000 fine – chicken feed. Lewis should have been banned from football forever or tried for attempted murder, or both.

There are other maladies connected to sports on all levels, however, especially with finances. Consider: No better reason for taxpayer revolt exists than that of the unbelievably idiotic management of athletics at the University of Kentucky, the latest of its intolerable circumstances being the paying of former basketball coach Billy Gillispie a cool $3,245,000 to be fired on the basis of a contract that had never been written, much less signed. For some strange reason, Gillispie and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart had been operating on some sort of “memo of understanding.”

Of course, Gillispie had been paid his salary and perks and guarantees, so what was a poor AD to do, especially one who makes far more than the university president – at least somewhere between a half-million and a million big ones per year? It’s hard to know the actual amount, since his contract, that took months to finally complete a few years ago, had so many gimmes, bonuses, cars, country-club memberships, loan payoffs for his desertion of a previous contract, longevity payoffs and who knows what else that probably not even the UK comptroller knows, although, of course, the athletics department is somewhat removed from the UK accounting department, making shady deals of all kinds beyond the purview of UK.

The athletics department is sometimes so fat with money that some years ago a million dollars was co-opted by the UK prexy, with no collateral damage to sports at all. This means that the UK administration can co-opt AD funds whenever it pleases, and it certainly would have been justified in grabbing $3 million instead of paying it out – and legally so – for the privilege of firing a coach on the basis of – and get THIS – his being unable to “fit in” at the university. Translation: Gillispie didn’t make it to the NCAA tournament in 2009. That failure, alone, cost Barnhart a cool $25,000 in bonus money, and all it takes to be among the NCAA teams is just to be in the top 64 in the nation.

Of course, paying off coaches at UK is nothing new. Football coach Hal Mumme was paid $1 million and given the free use of two cars for a year for “resigning” in 2001. Well...a million certainly isn’t enough to cover the cost of two cars, and at least Mumme wasn’t fired for not “fitting in.” His record of 2-9 in 2000 was not good, even though he had taken UK to bowl games a couple of times, at least, but that was another AD, so all bets are off. That AD didn’t last much longer, either, before he was shipped out and the genius of Barnhart was engaged.

Then, there was the case of football coach Bill Curry back in the 1990s. He wasn’t faring too well, so the powers-that-were managed to award him the paltry sum of $600,000 for giving it up, whereupon he “retired” to the ESPN for REAL money. If memory serves, he didn’t get the use of even one car, much less two, for a year in order to make his retirement free from the bothersome securing of license tags.

Gillispie’s windfall puts him in the same league as former University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, whom the university paid $3 million a few years ago for the privilege of firing him. It may be that Gillispie holds some kind of record for cleaning up on a university, especially in that strange category labeled by the “didn’t fit in” description accruing to a firing. Gillispie isn’t getting the use of even a motor scooter in the deal, but a guy just can’t have everything in this world of woe.

Sadly, for the $4,845,000 worth of resignations/firings/whatever for Gillispie, Mumme, and Curry over the last 15 or so years, the university could have hired 108 assistant professors at $45,000 a year or provided 323 full scholarships at $15,000 per year to needy students. But, hey...Athletic Director Barnhart has a new coach already worth millions and multi-millions if he’s ever paid for quitting, not too big a stretch. Barnhart’s probably looking forward to that $25,000 bonus for being at least the 64th best team in the country and another $25,000 for a final-four appearance. Maybe he’d also get a pickup to park beside his two “free” cars. That would be icing on the cake.

Indictments on felony-theft charges have just been handed down against four Lexington, Ky., airport employees for skullduggery costing some hundreds of thousands. They likely will do time. Wonder how the Grand Jury might rule in a case of malfeasance costing the university $3,245,000. Barnhart’s caper cost the athletics department six times the amount that the four stole from the airport. Amazing...and even more amazing is the fact that he’s still in the job! Of course, it would probably cost millions to give him the privilege of resigning. It’s a sure bet that he wasn’t operating on a “memo.”