As University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long continued to deliberate over the weekend over his official reaction to football coach Bobby Petrino’s personal transgressions, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette coincidentally reported on an issue at the heart of the matter.
A D-G article reports that the UA finished in the top 5 percent of more than 1,000 fund-raising institutions in 2011 by raising almost $109 million in private donations. That was far more than the amount raised by a number of larger universities in more prosperous states. Here’s one explanation of how they did it:
More than a third of that money, $38.5 million, came in gifts for athletics, a big year encouraged by recent success in football. (University officials also have long argued that athletic success spurs contributions to non-sports purposes.)
Would that number rise or fall in 2012 if Bobby Petrino is fired? I’d guess fall, because the football team wouldn’t likely achieve at the same level without him. Conversely, would contributions drop if Petrino is retained? Would rich alums stop giving because of unhappiness at what they considered insufficient punishment for Petrino’s dishonesty about a motorcycle accident and a problematic relationship with a 25-year-old female staff member? Doubtful.
Again: Petrino will stay as football coach. Money talks. It must once you’ve committed to major league athletics. Jessica Dorrell, the “student-athlete development coordinator” who was riding on the back of Petrino’s Harley-Davidson Road King when it crashed? Interesting question. It wouldn’t appear or be fair for Petrino to keep his job, worth up to $4 million a year, while the 25-year-old former UA
soccer volleyball player lost her $55,000 gig. But her continued presence as a staff assistant would be uncomfortable for all concerned, particularly, it seems safe to guess, Mrs. Petrino.
Beating a dead horse: The D-G quotes John Erck, director of development for UA athletics. Erck was paid almost $83,000 in 2010 to, among other duties, be a “liaison” to the Razorback Foundation. The $38.5 million in gifts the university raised included money designated for the foundation. It includes money the publicly financed athletic department collects and handles from preferred ticket sales at sporting events. The Foundation insists it is a private organization, unsupported by public money, and thus out of reach of public inspection of its spending. If Jeff Long truly wanted to strike a blow for accountability and university integrity, he’d end this sham, which serves only to cloak excesses from the likes of private jet use by favored Program figures and payoffs (coach buyouts, etc.) in unfortunate athletic circumstances. A giveback of Petrino benefits to which the Foundation is obligated in his contract might figure in Long’s resolution of the matter.