Readers Respond to "The Villain"

by Will Stewart,, 5/22/03

My recent column The Villain touched off more responses than most columns do -- probably because it was free, ha-ha -- and here we represent some of the better, more reasoned responses.

First a note: my treatment of the University of Miami's budget was very sloppy, as I estimated it at half a billion dollars. The truth is that it's just over a billion dollars, as supported by this link:

University of Miami 2000 Financial Statement (PDF format)

As you can see from that link (on page 3 of the PDF file and page 17 of the report excerpt), Miami's revenues and operating expenses were over a billion dollars.

Now, onto the letters.

From HokieJay:


Nice column. It's not everyday you take off the gloves and I'm glad you did.

But I want to point out a few things that you may have overlooked, one in particular I did not conclude until very recently, and I have been the biggest of Shalala bashers. Strictly constructive and perhaps thought provoking for future columns:

When we talk about Shalala's motivation, we cannot limit nor should we focus discussion on $1.5M athletic deficits. As your column illustrates, 0.3% or less of her budget cannot be why Shalala has "engineered" this plan. It's just not enough, considering the risk. In fact, I am 99% convinced that this thing is becoming considerably more politically difficult than she had anticipated. I mean, we may have months, possibly years before this thing runs it course, what with current public outrage (did you hear ESPN radio today? - WOW!), and much more significantly, growing clouds of litigation. I suspect her "private" consultations w/Janet Reno may have led her to conclude she could escape this kind of scrutiny.

Economically speaking, I believe there are two basic concerns, and both of them involve $ well beyond the current $1.5M deficit:

1) Athletics: I think it's a safe assumption that Shalala is a solid proponent of Title IX. Yet, here is Miami, the greatest football program in the land, her University, and limping along at the NCAA bare minimum of 16 funded sports AND running a deficit. Heck, even VT has 18 funded sports. I imagine when she took the job at Miami she heard from a few high rollers who were still upset about that famed Miami Men's Diving program - you know, the one that won National Championships faster than the football team ever has and yet had to be eliminated because of Title IX induced budget limitations?

Will, she doesn't want to eliminate that deficit - she wants to blow it away. How can she do that? Stay in the BE and deal with those BB only schools? Even Donna knows better.

Well, imagine only one 12 team conference dominating the entire east coast market. Now, give it a few years of promotion and what do you end up with? A TV contract that is roughly as lucrative as the ACC's and BE's current contracts combined. Hey, America's insatiable appetite for sports and there is no other Eastern based game in town! Just like Swofford said, if VT is not on TV..., [then HOO gets the TV market (in Va?)]. ACC schools could easily end up with $15-17M+ per school by 2010. Now that's the kind of scratch she wants.

2) Academics: Okay, here I am theorizing, but I like my chances. You correctly pointed out that a Miami scholly cost a whopping $35K/yr. and this puts pressure on the athletic department. My theory: There is plenty of pressure on the academic side of Miami also - perhaps much more than on the athletic side. In order to begin to prove this, one would have to do some research on the # of Miami applicants over the last 5 years, because as we Hokies know very well, more applicants means higher academic standards.

All VT needed was more visibility via football, because after all, the tuition was not going to scare anybody away. Not so with Miami. In case you missed it, the USA economy is a dog with fleas - and there is no recovery in sight. The stock market is no longer generating free cash for the parents of teenage children about to apply for college. And what is happening to the number of families with enough bucks to drop $35k/year on Junior's education? It's dropping, and dropping fast, and so will the number of applicants at Miami - unless Donna can raise the University's profile, and soon.

An upgrade to the highbrow ACC while keeping connections to the NE maintains demand - despite a jaw dropping tuition in a poor economy. In purely economic terms one might estimate the value of this solution in the $100M range - far more $ than that little athletic deficit you wrote about.

One final, minor point:

You wrote: "But before scorching the Big East landscape into a burned-out, unrecognizable wasteland, the University of Miami ought to take a look at how it does things and fix what's broken in-house, first. Improve efficiency in the athletic department and university as a whole. Step up fund-raising among the wealthy alumni in the northeast. Cut athletic programs, as West Virginia University did."

Miami has no more programs to cut. Indeed, the ACC min. is 18 programs, so Miami is looking at adding 2 sports just to join the conference. I wonder if the ACC is willing to waive that standard for Miami? Probably, at least for a few years.

- HokieJay

From Cane4Ever:

Will: What you don't know about UM athletics would fit inside of a Harry Potter-sized book.

Why don't you blame the real villain, the Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, Mike Tranghese?

The BE has been around for 24 years. The Southwest Conference was around for over 80, but it couldn't adapt to the times and is now extinct. Arguably, the damage done was even worse, as the Cotton Bowl has never been the same.

What has the BE done to become an all-sports conference, to move away from the Frankenstein monster of mixed membership that it has become? Get UConn to come to D-I football. That is all.

Tranghese is playing all of the remaining schools for fools. The BE took Miami when nobody wanted us? Nonsense, until recently, he spoke of bringing UM to the BE as his greatest accomplishment as BE president.

Now, to educate you on the items of which you know NOTHING...

UM may have 15,000 undergrads and grads, but only the full-time undergrads (just over 8,000) are required to pay the athletic fee, which did not increase during my entire undergraduate tenure. Additionally, Miami does not get revenue from selling game tickets to students, as those who pay the athletic fee are allowed admission from their student IDs. Thus, for the entire student section, UM does not receive any more revenue during the year than it has already collected at the beginning of the semester.

Second, UM's alumni base is NOT located in the northeast, it is predominantly in south Florida. OUTSIDE OF south Florida, the largest alumni base is in the northeast. You could probably say the same of most east coast private institutions. However, with only a few thousand graduates per year, Miami does not have the alumni base of a state school to help fill the stands.

Having said that, our attendance this year averaged nearly 70,000, which is almost a sellout. However, we still brought in less football revenue than Syracuse, which sells far fewer seats. Part of the problem is that UM cannot jack up the price of tickets, as there are 4 major pro sports in the same area and several up-and-coming college programs to boot. If Miami was a large state school, all of these issues would be much different.

You do raise the excellent point about the cost of UM's tuition. Surely you will realize that many of the alumni donations go towards endowing these scholarships, to reduce the burden on our athletic program. By the way, Miami HAS dropped several sports over the past few years, including men's golf and our award-winning men's diving program, which produced multiple national champion Dean Panaro, who also happens to be my former roommate and Tiffany/Jill Arrington's husband.

The sad part of your article is that, while you seem to understand that a $1.4 million loss is not such a big deal to UM (we lose money in most years on athletics), you cannot comprehend that the problem is NOT our inability to balance the books.

With only 18 sports, and only a handful that are "revenue" sports (including a so-so basketball program and a great baseball team that incurs tremendous travel costs), the football program is expected, almost single-handedly, to fund our entire athletic department. Miami is cursed by several income-expense issues that have NOTHING to do with our budgetary efficiency.

First, Miami is at the far end of the country. Our closest OOC rival is FSU, 500 miles away, and our closest CONFERENCE rival is 1,000 miles away. While travel costs aren't fatal in football, they do add up in other sports. Also, very few conference rivals travel well to Miami (VT is an exception), thus we probably sell FEWER tickets to our games than we could with closer rivals.

Second, the income flows associated with the BE fluctuate. If we lost $1.4 million while playing for the championship, imagine what we would have lost if another BE team went to the BCS game. What are we supposed to do, go begging to the other BE teams to give us a MORE disproportionate distribution? How about we keep ALL the money and just give y'all what we can afford? You would all complain about our greediness anyhow.

The bottom line: the NCAA gets a lot of the money, the athletes get free rides, and the colleges are left to foot the bill and balance the budget. Hell, almost every state in the country is running a deficit because of the bad economy. It is not UM's fault that the NCAA landscape is so screwed up.

Please stop complaining that UM is ruining the relatively short-lived Big East. The Southwest Conference had WAY more history and tradition. Stop blaming Donna Shalala, when the Big East has been making presentations to us for years. We didn't start this process, but we aren't going to sit around while everyone else takes action. That is EXACTLY why our best option was the Big East 13 years ago.

You should truly be criticizing Mike Tranghese and all the other short-sighted BE presidents who couldn't see this day coming. The SEC and Big 12 have had conference championships for over a decade, and it hasn't kept Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida, and Tennessee from winning championships. Almost every team in a 12-team conference makes a profit. Wake up and stop blaming Miami...

-- Cane4Ever

From nh_hokie:

Will: I respectfully disagree.

I realize that this is an emotional time and that there is a good chance that the growth of Virginia Tech sports and your business will take a major hit in the next few years, but I think your most recent column is a lashing out and focuses too much on one person, Donna Shalala, with no credible evidence to back up your claims.

Shalala is a relatively new president of the University, but you don't make a strong case that it is her personally who is causing this wreck. She is in the position to make the decision to not move Miami to the ACC, but that is hardly the equivalent of finding quotes and evidence that this whole jump to the ACC was her responsibility. The ACC has been courting Miami for years. The ACC has been making more money than the Big East for years. It has been clear that the football schools and the basketball schools have had at best an uneasy alliance in the Big East for 13 years.

Show me the evidence that this is Shalala's idea, that she was the one who convinced the ACC to make their offer, that she changed the decisions of Duke and North Carolina to vote yes. Tell me that you'd be complaining and vilifying her as much if VT were along for the ride instead of BC or Syracuse. And for all this, what if she decides not to do it at the last minute? Is she still the villain then? Seriously, how much will she be praised as a woman of character if incredibly she does refuse the ACC's offer?

We've been reading for weeks now about the conditions which led the ACC to actively seek Miami again (TV contracts, BCS and conference championship rules in the NCAA, the pushing of FSU, GT and Clemson to add more football) . We've been hearing about the splits in the Big East and the unhappiness of having lots of schools who only participate in the Big East as much as they want (e.g., Miami baseball). We've been hearing on the margins that VT doesn't have much in sports beyond a strong football team: VT doesn't have a strong basketball team, it doesn't fund other Olympic sports with scholarships the way that many other schools do, and we haven't yet proven that we have a strong TV market that just happens to be displaced a few hundred miles). Is this all Shalala's fault or just conveniently forgotten in the emotional response?

It is incredibly frustrating to sit by and watch this car wreck happen. It's worse than watching Temple beat VT against the odds. But this is no more the fault of one University President than the economy is the fault of the President of the U.S.

I can't be as sanguine about the morals of VT administrators compared to those in the ACC or the would be Big East defectors. What has everyone been talking about? Take VT instead of BC! How can we have VT succeed somehow by jumping to the SEC and leave the rest of those basketball only schools to their own fate. HEY! It was some of those basketball only schools that voted to give VT full membership in the Big East. Pitt and WV are likely to have just as much if not more problems than VT. The Big Ten will take Notre Dame before they take Pitt despite the claims of spurns in the past. Will Donna Shalala be the Villain there too? I'm afraid not.

It is not about one person. It's about the money and greed. Yes, it is also about pride in your school and wishing to see it succeed, but only this wish has been twisted to measure success only in terms of dollars. And what makes this particularly tragic is that we expect the student-athlete, who is absolutely enmeshed in this system, to be held to an incredibly high standard compared to that of the rest of the individuals involved (coaches, AD's, staff, even fans).

For us it's all about the money (how much can we collect or save?). Yet we vilify a Georgia athlete who sells a Sugar Bowl ring to cash in on some of the effort he's put in over the years. The amazing thing in this whole story is how the athletes, ESPECIALLY the ones who know they won't have much if any pro career, have NOT succumbed to the greed at anywhere near the same extent. The Georgia athletes and the ones who accept recruiting "bonuses" are the rare exception.

I just can't stand by and watch one person be offered as a scapegoat in the face of all the evidence that we only have a system producing what it was constructed and refined to produce.

Show me evidence that Donna Shalala is the cause of this whole debacle. Show me quotes that she doesn't care. Show me that she was the person who "bought" Swofford and found ways to encourage FSU, Clemson and GT to demand expansion. Show me that it was Shalala who convinced the tobacco road schools that football oriented expansion was the right thing for the ACC. Then I could believe she is the villain. Until then, I will continue to believe that it was the cumulative decisions of coaches, AD's, television executives, conference executives, fans and the like that caused this potential catastrophe.

-- nh_hokie


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