The Oregon football team, here at last week’s game against the UW, and the rest of the UO athletic department have received money from Oregon’s general fund for the past eight years.
Everyone has been saying Washington athletic director Scott Woodward made a huge blunder this week.
Woodward made comments on the radio this past weekend about the University of Oregon’s athletic department, calling the academic institution “an embarrassment,” and saying, “The fans at Oregon should get down on their hands and knees at night to [Nike chairman, co-founder and UO booster] Phil Knight and pray to him …” He went on to say, “In my mind, it’s a wonderful athletic facility, but they’ve watched it at the expense of the university go really down.”
On Monday, Woodward released a statement, apologizing for any misunderstanding.
Woodward didn’t need to apologize for his comments. He was absolutely correct in making them. Woodward’s comments weren’t tactful, and they’re bound to upset a lot of people, but they bring attention to a topic that sorely needed it and having someone of Woodward’s stature as the messenger carries a lot of weight.
In Eugene this past weekend at the football game, I saw the UO campus. An Oregon student showed me some of the highlights: the impressive Jaqua Center, where UO athletes are tutored, and the brand new Matthew Knight Arena, the crown jewel of the Oregon athletic department and a monument of the gluttonous nature of UO athletics.
But there was nothing special for the regular students. The campus was average, the dorms were dreary, and you could bet that anything that looked new or shiny was only for athletes.
It would be one thing if Oregon’s athletic department was paying for its toys by itself. Even though some athletic departments throughout the nation give money to the schools’ general funds, it could be forgiven if Oregon’s athletic department was self-sustaining.
But it isn’t. Not even close.
According to the university, UO took $1,632,989 in 2009-10 from the general fund for academic support services for athletes. The total this year is expected to be even higher.
Over the past nine years, the general fund has paid almost $8.5 million for academic support for athletes. And while the recession hit and state academic funding went down, the UO only increased the amount of money given to athletes. What started as just $300,000 from the general fund given to exclusive tutoring and counseling for students in 2002, has multiplied nearly six times.
Essentially, UO is taking money from the regular students to ensure success for their athletic programs.
This boils down to the heart of what the college game should be. Are college teams supposed to be woven into the fabric of the university they represent, or are they merely pro-style teams that are nothing more than marketing for the university?
Last April, new UO president Richard Lariviere said, “This institution did not follow acceptable business practices in the past. That will not be repeated under my administration.”
Lariviere’s statement was in response to the controversial buyout of former head football coach and athletic director Mike Bellotti, who walked away with a $2.3 million buyout that was never put into contract. Bellotti was one of the state’s highest-paid employees.
It was a nice thought from Lariviere, but then again, this is the public school that leased the land that the Matthew Knight Arena was built on to Phil Knight for just $1.
If there was one thing that should have caused Woodward to hold his tongue, it is that the UW is not entirely innocent when it comes to taking state money for athletics.
While the UW athletic department typically has a net profit, the school does receive almost $2 million in tuition for female athletes as part of a state law designed to help schools comply with Title IX, a federal law that requires schools provide as many scholarships to women as men.
However, UW athletics has always held that it is self-sufficient, receiving no additional funding other than the revenue the athletic department brings itself.
Woodward’s comments may not have been good politics, but they raise a good point. Oregon may be able to boast the No. 1 football team in the country, an undefeated team that will most likely play for a national championship, but they’ve done so while its academic rank keeps dropping, almost hidden behind the athletic success.
Unfortunately, it seems that at Oregon, when the football team wins, the students lose.
Reach football columnist Jacob Thorpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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