Early Friday, there’s not much additional to be said about the Bobby Petrino affair until University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long announces his decision on action relative to the administratively suspended head football coach who continues to draw his $4 million in pay.
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Petrino lied about circumstances of his motorcycle accident by repeatedly saying he was alone. In fact, he had a staff member, Jessica Dorrell, on the back of his Harley Davidson when he crashed on a countryside pleasure ride. He’s now admitted that and also revealed an inappropriate relationship of some sort with someone in his past for which he’s trying to make amends with his family. He mentioned this in saying he’d tried to protect Dorrell from exposure in his accident by not telling the truth.
This is short of any specific admission relative to Dorrell herself, who’s engaged to be married to another member of the Razorback athletic staff, Josh Morgan. Inevitably, that’s a question that must be answered in some fashion because of her position as a recently hired subordinate of Petrino’s. She’d previously worked for the nominally private Razorback Foundation (where her previous job as a fund-raiser was trumpeted on the university website by the publicity staff as an advancement for women as she was the first of her gender to be given such a responsibility at the Foundation.)
Thanks to Fort Smith writer Scott Faldon for a link to the University of Arkansas employee handbook. It contains several sections that could be pertinent to this situation, depending on what Jeff Long learns. For example, Section 3.6 relative to sexual harassment says, in part:
Consensual sexual relationships between faculty and their students or between supervisors and their employees in some instances may result in charges of sexual harassment.
Consensual relationships may lead other faculty and students or supervisors and coworkers to question the validity of grades, evaluations, and other interactions between the people involved in such a relationship. The integrity of the work of both people in the relationship may be compromised. …
The University is walking in a mine field. Whatever decisions are made will leave it with loud critics and a public bruising. Differing opinions about whether there should be job consequences for private misbehavior or sexual activities are fine to debate, but irrelevant for Jeff Long at the moment. A public agency is weighing, first, repeat dishonesty by the highest paid public employee in the state. It also must be cognizant of how its actions will be viewed by hundreds of employees who wonder how they’d be treated should they become involved in a controversy related to personal activities with a publicly paid subordinate.
I hope Long’s investigation includes a talk with the family that drove the injured Petrino to a meetup with a state trooper who took him on to the hospital. They insisted they didn’t have a woman in their car — as the State Police report reflects — when called by the Democrat-Gazette, but refused to talk further when confronted with a police report saying otherwise. Did they receive encouragement or inducement from Petrino or anyone else to keep this information secret?
The State Police learned of the truth at least by Tuesday, but withheld comment until release of the report Thursday. As awareness of this information widened, how did word not reach someone in the athletic department?
I think the odds today favor Petrino’s retention as coach, after a public admonishment and a financial penalty. He’s a winner on the football field, which is the primary measure of the winning-is-everything ethos of high-dollar college athletics. The embarrassment will exact a lasting personal toll. His awful judgment (did he REALLY think this would remain secret?) will factor into his credibility on the future issues that inevitably develop in college athletics, including his handling of players’ personal miscues.
Dorrell’s situation is, potentiallly, saddest of all. What if she’s just a co-worker who went on an innocent cycle ride? Regardless, her ability to continue in a role with the football team seems in jeopardy, maybe moreso than that of the man who makes 75 times her $55,000 annual pay. After all, how many football games has she won?
What a mess.
FURTHER PREDICTION: Well-placed people in the Hog corporate support kingdom say the deal is all but done. Petrino will be given a suspension without pay and also lose some incentives, as part of disciplinary action allowed in his contract short of dismissal. I could be surprised, but this sounds like good conventional wisdom. I don’t think the Sporting News writer’s suggestion that Petrino be fired and replaced by Gus Malzahn is likely to get much traction.
UPDATE: Here’s Petrino’s formal contract, which specifies that, short of dismissal, he can be punished for job infractions by suspension, reduction in pay or incentives, loss of special allowances (maybe they’d take his fancy loaner cars and make him drive a Prius) or other “disciplinary or corrective action.”
PPS: The Athletic Department’s Kevin Trainor, in finally responding today to my question yesterday on Dorrell’s pay said the figure, $55,735, was the same as that paid the previous student-athlete development coordinator who took a job elsewhere. She went to work March 23 after working since November 2009 for the Razorback Foundation. Her pay there isn’t known. The Foundation doesn’t answer questions from the media about its quasi-private activities despite the significant dollars it reaps for premium seat sales handled by public employees.