Enforcing the 'Double Standard'

Major college sports insanity is entrenched at UT-Austin

Beverly Kearney
Beverly Kearney
Courtesy of UT Athletics

The recent article by Amy Smith ("Then There's This: Double Standard," Sept. 20) lays out the clear gender-related double standard at work within the University of Texas at Austin NCAA Athletics program, a double standard that led to the forced resignation of women's track coach Beverly Kearney. Smith also raises a larger issue. How are decisions like Kearney's effective firing made and then put into action with so little push back or oversight?

I have followed athletics policies, decisions, and actions at UT-Austin for almost fifteen years now, as a frequent member of the Faculty Council's executive and budget advisory committees and as UT's representative from 2008-11 on the national faculty watchdog organization, the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA). Here are my candid and informed opinions on how such decisions about NCAA Athletics are made at UT-Austin, who gets to make them and why.

The athletics program at UT-Austin is described as a fully self-sourced and self-sustaining auxiliary enterprise. That it, in fact, does not sustain itself through independent revenue sources of its own creation is another story. Nevertheless, this administrative doctrine makes it possible for the chief academic officers at UT to sign off on decisions made in a sports silo by a set of cronies with virtually no check on their opinions, values, decisions, or claims.

These cronies have the support of the regents and of the members (including regental appointees) of the Men's Athletics Council. Figures within the academic administration and on the faculty who should resist – when, for example, Athletics takes royalty and trademark revenues away from academics, or seriously reduces payouts to the UT Co-op – do not resist, because they know they would be risking their own positions of power, money, and comfort.

Until 2006, Athletics gave virtually nothing back to the academic mission. Since the national championship and setting up of the Longhorn Network, claims are made that the football program gives back $15-20 million annually to the university. Such claims should not be taken at face value. The back in "give back" is the truly operative word. Relatively small funds are truly "given" by Athletics to the university for academics and research unrelated to the primary interests of Athletics. Allocation of these funds is not under the control of the faculty. They have been controlled and distributed by the president strategically. 

Why would or how could kinesiology continue fighting against the expansion of Athletics when it is given a museum and other space inside the north stadium expansion? Why would professors and students in Communications or its Sports and Media program push back when the Longhorn Network is generating revenues that will pay for large numbers of graduate assistants, undergraduate interns, and faculty positions connected with broadcasting and marketing Longhorn sports?

Money and even visibility are spread around in a way that makes programs and the faculty in charge of them dependent on the relatively small amounts of sports revenues doled out.

This is not necessarily simple cowardice. For a professor making $85,000, directing a program with a budget of $30,000, an extra $20,000 in program funds, $5,000 in travel funds or $2,000 to bring in a visiting lecturer is highly prized, and not easily turned down for moral or ethical reasons relating to matters that are kept highly guarded and difficult to know with reasonable assurance.

Seats for games at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium, some in the president's sky box, are also proffered to key faculty members, who soon learn to play along.

The Athletic Triumvirate

Meanwhile, in the sports silo, three key figures appear to have the most say in making and implementing decisions.

The first is Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. It is a mistake to consider his position nominal because he does not seek the limelight, or push his own salary window too hard. Dodds is, in my experience, frighteningly aware at almost all times of what the factors and players in any given situation are and how to achieve his ends. He leaves no small detail to chance. Dodds has preternatural political shrewdness and an enormous ego that he keeps carefully in check. He knows how to get things done completely off the radar screen. UT's scandals are carefully damage-controlled by Dodds and he makes sure with his "aw, shucks, little ol' me" style that no one notices.

DeLoss Dodds
DeLoss Dodds
Courtesy of UT Athletics

Take for example, his response to the report that one current and one former regent had contact with representatives of Alabama head coach Nick Saban about his future availability for the Texas coaching job: "It's a regents thing, and I'm going to stay out of it." At least publicly.

The second is President Bill Powers. Powers loves sports – and that is a real problem. I have never understood how he can be so impervious to problems with NCAA athletics identified by national leaders like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or NCAA chief Mark Emmert. He must know at some level that UT's ways of operating have exacerbated these problems, not helped to solve them.

As I have written elsewhere, I cannot tell whether this failure to engage in reform is from weak faculties of perception and reasoning on Powers's part, a moral blind spot, love of being among the powerful and wealthy, love of being around athletes, a willful choice, or his personal hard-wiring.

Here is my view as a historian and as a living witness involved in events as they unfolded. As law school dean, Powers seems to have set the precedent for using outside funds to reward key faculty off the radar screen — the practice that blew up when his successor as dean took matters so far as effectively to give himself a $500,000 forgivable loan. From his post at the law school, Powers was carefully groomed to be president. One thing he needed was true university-wide credentials. He got them when he was entrusted (2004-05) with the curricular reforms recommended by the Commission of 125 (2002-09) that led to the formation of UT's Undergraduate Studies Program, in which I happily and actively teach.

In 2005, Powers was chosen to be sole finalist for the president's position, rather than the standard operating procedure of bringing three finalists to campus for campus-wide interviews. This was done not because there were no viable competing candidates, but because, again in my view, Powers was the insider, already designated by the power brokers as the president they wanted. This now seems ironic given how, with the changing composition of the Board of Regents, Powers's minor pushback on a denied request to raise tuition has made him a target of the new Perry-ite regents and therefore a martyr standing for sound university values to many faculty. A Homer Rainey he has never been.

Powers had been a member of Enron's board of directors, and was then appointed to head the investigation into Enron's bankruptcy and accounting practices – that is, he knew how the power game is played and how accounts are managed among those who hold and distribute power. And the regents in 2005 had a long memory of how, when three candidates were brought to campus twelve years earlier, a late switch in one regent's vote had led to the unanticipated appointment of Robert Berdahl as 25th president of UT-Austin (1993-97).

Mack Brown
Mack Brown
Courtesy of UT Athletics

By virtue of being head coach of the Godzillatron men's sport, football coach Mack Brown is the final member of the triumvirate. He has an effectively smooth CEO style and is adept at using self-serving propaganda. He is long used to running his own show. Coach Brown has only one time in his whole career had to answer questions about the football program he runs with a faculty council or senate: January 28, 2008. Even that was orchestrated as a one-time-only dog-and-pony show. You may read his comments and the questions posed, in order to get a taste of his Olympian assurance that academics will never seriously interfere with his goals as a coach.

Power, Money, and Insanity

Despite recent mediocre seasons, Brown has kept his job partly because of cronyism. Mega-sports-donors billionaire lawyer Joe Jamail and billionaire auto, communications, private military, and professional sports entrepreneur Red McCombs are now longtime buddies with Brown, Powers, and Dodds. They seem to view Brown as an old war horse like themselves who can still "get the job done." Jamail is also Brown's lawyer and has declared about the pressure to have Brown resign, "If there is any more, get ready for a lawsuit."

Brown also remains because Vince Young won for Brown the 2006 Rose Bowl and the national title and related revenue increases along with it. Young won what is effectively the NCAA Nobel Prize for his coach. Otherwise, Brown's teams have only won the Big 12 title two years (2005, 2009). Any other coach would have long since been run out of Austin with a record of two conference titles in fifteen years, especially in the notoriously weak Big 12.

But with expanded 12 to 14 game schedules against many mediocre or worse teams, Brown and Dodds have convinced the powers-that-be and the Powers who is that it is a worthy achievement to have nine- and 10-victory seasons. Given the recruits UT gets, the facilities, the exposure on the LHN, the salaries of the coaches, nine victories should be a given if Alfred E. Neuman were coaching.

Brown survives by throwing assistants (whom ironically he himself has hired as the best experts) under the bus. Scandals like the Cleve Bryant (Brown's "fixer") dismissal and lawsuit are sealed off and kept a private matter – the sealed Bryant report went straight from Dodds to Powers with the "legitimate"(?) excuse of legal ramifications used as a cover. I know from having been contacted as then UT's COIA representative that investigative sportswriters from the Associated Press and ESPN tried mightily to break the seal without success.

The Bryant case had a timeline that readers of Amy Smith's article will recognize as Dodds's handiwork. Word of a scandal hit in October 2010. Bryant went on leave, incommunicado. His salary was terminated in March 2011 off the radar screen. That fact was finally made public in late June 2011. And ESPN covered what it could of the story in September 2011 at the start of a new football season when dismissal of a fix-it man for unrevealed reasons was old and stale news.

And as Amy Smith's article points out, Major Applewhite was "punished" for his affair, which, like the Bryant case, was long kept under wraps, by having his salary "frozen" until the next scheduled period for pay raises. That is, he was not punished at all.

But Bev Kearney was fired, we are told, because it was discovered, years after the fact, that she violated a newly introduced code of practice for relationships between employees of different status at the university by not reporting her mutually consensual adult relationship to her immediate superior.

This is an obvious double standard. Applewhite's affair, according to good-ol'-boy logic, was the kind of slip any red-blooded male football hero turned coach makes from time to time. Kearney, though, was judged as violating a serious taboo (a woman having a committed relationship with a woman) – at least from the perspective of the male cronies in the silo.

One longtime correspondent of mine, a self-proclaimed long-term exile in Austin, wrote to me about how these kinds of decisions can be made and enacted without any serious questioning. It reflects the mindset of human beings whose narcissism is fed by money and power, and who demand too little of themselves with regard to how they are affecting others during their time walking our Earth.

He asked, are there really two basic types of people? Some sort of difference in the hard wiring? A kind of insanity?

Summing up, here are my honest views after fifteen years of looking at UT's version of NCAA big-sport athletics up close, in person, and as inside as any faculty member who has not bought into, or been bought off by, the system ever gets.

Athletics should be an extracurricular pursuit integrated into the fabric of university life. Student athletes in all sports should be kept to the twenty-hour limit the NCAA sets as a rule, but does not enforce. Instead we know from the NCAA's own surveys – and DeLoss Dodds has publicly admitted — that student athletes in big-time sports have "full-time jobs," i.e., they work forty-hour weeks.

Far from an extracurricular activity, NCAA big-time sports have become nationwide, and with UT leading the way – a rare unadvised public remark by DeLoss Dodds is "We are the Joneses" – a lucrative economic enterprise driven by the greed of sports coaches and administrators, major media, sports equipment and paraphernalia manufacturers, game day hotel chains, the NCAA itself – the high salaries of NCAA officials are paid out of sports television revenues – and the list continues.

NCAA athletics has all the faults of major transnational corporations, including mega-salaries for the CEO's and exploitation of workers on the factory floors – in this case professional-quality athletes employed at full-time jobs as unpaid amateurs, many of whom never get degrees even when given six years to do so. The excess is not limited to multimillion-dollar coaches and skybox revelers. It affects the basic values of the university and indeed changes the life of our community in big and small ways.

I now agree with my correspondent that an obsession with any vicarious sport should be seen as a form of insanity. For the similar, though somewhat milder views of UT's Steven Weinberg, our Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, see "Sports of The Times; An Awkward Coexistence On Campus."

Since the 1920s, college sports insanity has been described as a major problem in education and in social values in the United States. Power and wealth and bad values have prevailed since the Stone Age.

Tom Palaima is the Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory, and a MacArthur fellow for his work in Aegean prehistory and early Greek language and culture. His blog is at: http://blogs.utexas.edu/pasp/

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