Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette got some quotes from University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long for his article this morning about the department’s $105 million budget for the year beginning July 1, an 8 percent increase over this year.
The article included mention of the proposal for a $226 million construction project at Razorback Stadium (our figure includes the interest on the bond issue, not the base $160 million price). The UA Board voted 8-2 to endorse the project, with former Gov. and Sen. David Pryor speaking at length in opposition. Wrote Murphy:
Certainly Sen. Pryor is entitled to his views, and he expressed them eloquently,” Long said. “I don’t get upset with people having a different point of view.
Chuckle. My own experience suggests otherwise. A response to Long on Twitter some months ago, so innocuous I can’t recall it, earned me permanent blockage from Long’s Twitter account. His assistant Kevin Trainor is allowed to respond (probably because the law provides no option) to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Times. Long responses to questions? Never.
It is possible that Long’s brusque style has influenced some of the reaction to the project, including strong negatives among at least a handful of ultra-rich and influential people who’ve contributed heavily to Hog athletics in the past. (Think John Tyson, who joined the letter from former UA trustees objecting to the project.)
The usual sports junkies cheerlead the project (on a talk show Friday, the only negative comment I heard was a question about why Long just didn’t be done with it and complete the “bowling” of the stadium, rather than retaining the northeast gap, a distinctive feature I actually like.) But there’s been plenty of criticism in editorial columns, letters to the editor and elsewhere about out-of-whack priorities.
Yes, everyone else in big-time football is out of whack. Yes, the department pays its own way — thanks particularly to TV contracts and high-dollar football stadium seats. But it could not do so without the brand of a public university that happens to currently be experiencing rising tuition, mediocre faculty pay and deferred needs — a particularly symbolic shortcoming is the crumbling Senior Walk on which the names of all UA graduates are inscribed.
The Athletic Department’s 8 percent budget increase (in a year when state agencies are facing effective reductions and no employee pay raises) did not include an increase in the amount it shares with the university at large. It held firm at $2.35 million, which represents an actual drop in percentage of revenue shared with the university. Athletic department defenders would counter that sports success generates other benefits — students, general contributions and more.
Let that perpetual argument continue. The appearance of the thing is inescapable. A quarter-billion-dollar addition to a facility used six times a year (and rarely sold out) is about to rise within view of academic buildings where the deans make half the salary of a defensive line coach and their offices don’t begin to match what’s planned for the north end zone facility that’s home to the head office of Hog Inc.
Hard as it is to believe, a large number of people think the state’s future success is tied more to education than football.