From the Daily: A bad call on bad behavior


Published July 13, 2008

Based on the short amount of time he's been with the University, it appears Rich Rodriguez's name is "trouble." The Athletic Department's problem child made headlines again last week when an out-of-court settlement determined that the Wolverines' new head football coach would have to pay $4 million for breaking his contract with his former employer, West Virginia University. That would have been all well and good, perhaps even karmic retribution for bad behavior - that is, if the University hadn't stepped in and agreed to help foot the bill. Indicative of the continued overemphasis on athletics, lack of Athletic Department oversight and just plain irresponsible spending, there's no doubt about it: This call was definitely foul.

The University has promised to shell out $2.5 million of the $4 million the newest head coach is obligated to pay, and as agreed to cover his legal fees. That represents a hefty chunk of change, money that could have been better spent on - well, actually, pretty much anything else.

Rodriguez made a choice to walk away from his contract with West Virginia, and lots of other coaches who have been in his position have chosen to stay put rather than fork over money for big buyout clauses. Rodriguez should have expected that if he did choose to leave, he would have to pay. If he wasn't willing to, he shouldn't have signed with the Wolverines. On the Athletic Department's end, it shouldn't have hired him if it knew it might have to make this kind of expensive compromise.

If the Athletic Department had millions lying around, burning a hole in its pocket, it could have put the money toward an endless list of more productive things - like creating more varsity sports teams, for example. The University trails other schools, boasting only 26 varsity teams compared to similar universities like Ohio State University which has 37. Historically, financial strains have been used to justify this low number; it's certainly not a lack of demand. There are teams in the wings waiting. Lacrosse, for example, has long been vying for varsity recognition.

Even if the department couldn't have found ways to spend the money internally, the University sure could have. The Athletic Department - which has a budget separate from the rest of the University's general fund - has, in recent years, turned a profit and gave some of that money back to the University. Last year, for example, the department gave $1.5 million to the general fund for need-based financial aid. Though the department is not under any obligation to give money to the general fund, undergraduate students now facing a 5.6-percent tuition increase probably would have better appreciated the financial aid Rodriguez's buyout could have funded.

The whole situation is indicative of the University's jumbled priorities. The fact that the Athletic Department is in a position to give money to the University at all is largely due to big licensing deals and vender contracts. Hiring a coach already under contract wasn't the classiest move; using money earned through fat contracts to pay for his buyout is unacceptable. All signs point to the fact that college sports, including the University's program, are being pushed to levels of commercialization that should be raising some skeptical eyebrows.

And the fact that the Athletic Department could get away with stealing a coach, dragging the University through an unnecessary ordeal and paying millions in the process is telling of another problem: lack of oversight by the University. Though the department may be separate, the University should still slap its wrists when it makes poor choices like this one.

Correction: Rodriquez's settlement is for $4 million not , as an early edition and the in-print version report, $9 million.