SportsProf

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Much Influence Should a Booster Have. . . and What is the Required Ante

I once read an article where a fan of a Pac-10 school not named Oregon joked that Oregon had gained an advantage in the conference because it had the best "owner" in Phil Knight, an Oregon alum and the founder of Nike. Knight's largesse is well-known, and the Ducks have benefited as a result, particularly on the football field (and they have more uniform combinations than Imelda Marcos had shoes, Larry King has had wives, the Redskins have expensive veterans who don't quite pan out, pick your analogy).

Now the bright lights focus on UConn, where there's been a very public spat between a large donor and the athletic director, presumably over the failure of the Huskies to keep football coach Randy Edsall, who bolted for Maryland. The story involves $7 million, naming rights, the request for the money back, a public venting, name-calling and the like. All this brings into question how much influence should a big donor have over a school, its priorities, and its athletic program. This article from The New York Times sheds light on the dilemmas schools face. They want and need the money to remain competitive, but at what cost to their priorities? Put differently, who should call the shots -- the donor, boosters' groups, the athletic director or, of course, the university president?

My take, for what it's worth, is that the university president and the trustees should set the tone and should take all steps to ensure that the university is preparing its students for the job market -- and not for whetting their appetites to pay large sums to spectate. Sure, it's fun to watch big-time games -- no one will doubt that -- but college is expensive, and the debate at all colleges and universities should focus on the preparation front -- for all students, and not just for a selected few who get athletic scholarships. After all, most of them, also, will need preparation for the job market that goes beyond the ability to pound a blocking sled, swim the fastest time or hit a softball.

The debate at Connecticut should bring a discussion of priorities to the forefront. Where is anyone -- and there are those out there who have done so -- to challenge the precept that big-time football and basketball are a top -- and sometimes if not frequently -- disproportionate -- priority? In these economic times --and with the world rapidly changing -- despite all the attention that basketball and football get -- I'd bet in 20 years most alums will care more about how well their schools prepared them for the job market and living a life they imagined than reminiscing over teams that made a BCS bowl game or the Final Four. The latter simply are part of the conversation about a fun experience at college; the former, well, is life.

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