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Given our past history, should we really be playing fast and loose with the University's student-athlete code of conduct?

Headline in the Daily:

Athletics director overrules code of conduct, clears Mbakwe for practice

Mr. Maturi, I don't think that this is a good idea and here is why:

August 17, 2009

Mr. Doug Belden
St. Paul Pioneer Press
345 Cedar Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

Dear Mr. Belden:

While the headline on the front page of the Sunday Pioneer Press regarding the new TCF Bank stadium at the University of Minnesota is on the money ("Not All Golden"), the content of the report shortchanges your readers. The fact that the new stadium may generate $1 million less in revenue than expected (and that the Athletic Department will continue to need millions each year as a subsidy from the general revenues of the University) is small change compared to the much greater losses that the University has already sustained as a result of all the resources allocated to the construction of the stadium.

During each bonding session of the legislature the University submits its request for HEAPR bonds that are necessary for the maintenance and renovation of existing academic facilities. In the 2006 "stadium session" the legislature slashed the HEAPR allocation from the $80 million requested by the University to $30 million. In 2008 the legislature cut the HEAPR request (the "cornerstone" of the 2008 Capital Request of the University) from $100 million to $35 million. So as the Regents and senior administrators celebrate the opening of a new football stadium (that will be used for six football games each year), they can literally watch the academic facilities begin to crumble around them.

As the University cajoles the legislators for funds for athletic facilities, the best and brightest faculty members are being lured away by offers of greater compensation at other institutions (as then CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone noted at the January 2007 legislative briefing). As the University loses these faculty members, it also loses tens of millions of dollars in research money from government, foundations, private industry, and alumni with an interest in the subject of the research.

In a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 24, 2008 the president of the University asserted that there is "a critical link" between the stadium and academic interests." He claimed that the University had received $45 million for academic purposes as a direct result of fund raising for the stadium! There was no evidence presented to support a claim that was apparently accepted without question by the reporter.

If big time college sports actually produced widespread alumni support for academic programs, then the universities with winning teams would dominate the rankings of school in alumni donations. Yet schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are not even in the top 75. In fact, smaller schools that provide a quality academic experience for undergraduate students dominate the rankings. See America's Best Colleges 2008 published by U.S. News & World Report (enclosed).

This leads to another problem with the priorities at the University. The president has declared that it is a goal for the University to be one of the top three public research institutions in the world. There is a danger of placing too much emphasis on research. A disproportionate allocation of resources to research would have an adverse effect on the equally important task of teaching our undergraduate students.

Moreover, a goal of being one of the top three public research institutions in the world is illusory as there is no recognized authority to certify that such a goal has been attained. Such talk diverts attention from the real challenges facing the University that are the consequences of the failure to secure adequate financial support from the legislature.

In the 20th century intercollegiate athletics evolved from club teams to big business, especially in the primary revenue sports of men's basketball and football.
There was a transition from a game in which a limited number of coaches with relatively modest salaries instructed local students to an annual $58 million financial enterprise at the University in which numerous coaches with extravagant compensation engage in the national recruiting of young men merely for their athletic skills. The result has been an endless series of embarrassments for the University: the on court riot instigated by the thugs recruited by Bill Musselman for the basketball team; the cash doled out by Luther Darville to the football players of Lou Holtz; the group sex after a basketball game in Madison by the players of Jim Dutcher; the academic fraud during the tenure of Clem Haskins; the 2007 conviction of a Gopher football player for criminal sexual conduct for ejaculating on the face of a young woman who was intoxicated to the point of being unconscious; the April 2009 arrest in Miami of a new Gopher basketball player for felony assault for attempting to pull a young woman's pants down and punching her twice in the face; the dismal graduation rates for the men's basketball and football teams.

There is a solution that would permit the University to disentangle itself while allowing those programs to continue. Organize the men's basketball and football teams as separate corporations. The University would grant a license to those corporations to use the University name for the teams. The fee for the license would be a percentage of the revenues the corporations generate from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, advertising, etc. The University would use part of the license fee income to support the non-revenue sports it decides to retain, such as track and swimming. This is a solution that would enable the sports fans to continue to enjoy the games and enable the University to focus on its academic mission--the reason for its existence.

The adverse effects of the big money sports on education and research will increase as universities continue to participate in the accelerating athletic arms race. See, Sperber, Beer & Circus: How Big Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education (New York: Henry Holt & Co. 2000). It will take persons of foresight and courage to reset the priorities at their institutions. The time is long overdue for a critical review of the priorities of the senior administrators and the Regents at the University of Minnesota.

Sincerely yours,

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association lifetime member


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