UT to End Football Program
Governor, Lege order budget cuts: 'Need to tighten belts ... and jockstraps'
Late Wednesday afternoon, in a move likely to cause controversy among Texas Exes and light-beer enthusiasts, the University of Texas announced (via a text message sent to the Austin American-Statesman sports desk) that it will be ending the university's athletics programs at the close of this academic year. "No mor ftbll at UT no mor," read the unsigned message, texted from an encrypted athletics cell phone number. Reached at home, where he had gone to await media reaction, UT Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds confirmed the disappointing news. "The red numbers and the expense accounts finally caught up with us," Dodds said. "We couldn't keep the financial balls in the air any longer."
There was mixed reaction to the announcement from elected officials. Asked if he thought the Texas Enterprise Fund might be used to shore up UT athletics – an economic boon to the state – Gov. Rick Perry said, "The purpose of the TEF is to grant state subsidies to private corporations, not Washington-style socialism," adding, "Gig 'em, Aggies!" Local Austin officials, on the other hand, said they were scrambling to find funding in the city budget that might underwrite Longhorn football (see "Longhorn City").
The following day, UT President Bill Powers confirmed the decision from his weekend retreat in Marfa. "If UT is going to remain a world-class university, we have to be able to hire new faculty every once in a while and to repair the academic buildings that are collapsing due to deferred maintenance. With the money we'll save on coaches' salaries alone," he said, "we can permanently endow several academic departments." Powers said he had not yet informed the UT System board of regents of his decision ("We were hoping the news wouldn't leak before the next scheduled regents' retreat at Barton Creek Country Club," he added), but he was certain the board would support the change.
"It's well known that the regents are dedicated to undergraduate and graduate education first and foremost, above all," he said. "They enjoy football just as much as the next Orangeblood, but they understand a university must set priorities, especially when times are tough. Students must come first, and undergraduate education is the primary purpose of the university. In the grand scheme of things, football is way down the priority list. Sort of."
Powers added that the redirection of athletics spending – from such expenses as million-dollar coaches' salaries, nationwide travel, luxurious locker rooms, lengthy hotel stays at home and away, and clubhouse-style features including dozens of flat-screen TVs in private and public areas – should enable the university to allot more funds for needs-based undergraduate scholarships and faculty salaries.
As a first step, Powers has directed that the $2 million raise recently awarded to head football coach Mack Brown be canceled and the money transferred to the endowment of the undergraduate scholarship fund. "Mack immediately seconded the decision," Powers said. "He even joked that he thinks he can get by on his current salary of $3 million."
Although announced this week – by means of the unauthorized leak from within the athletics program – the decision to call an end to 117 years of UT gridiron tradition was apparently made by a small group of administrators several months ago. The administrative task force, given the code name "Operation Pigskin," met monthly in the fall and included Powers, Dodds, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty, Vice President for Student Affaris Juan González, and several other administrators. They reviewed the annual athletics budget numbers, considered the governor's mandate that all state agencies prepare once again to cut their overall budgets by 5% to 10%, and concluded that the quickest way to make up the difference without cutting into educational priorities was by terminating the athletics program. "It was a difficult but necessary decision," said Dodds. "And when we proposed the step to the student advisory board, which takes part in all these decisions, the students reluctantly but enthusiastically agreed."
The three students on the advisory board – selected by administrators from the most loyal members of the sports spirit groups, the Silver Spurs and the Hellraiser Honeys – said that in fact they were informed of the decision by Dodds in a brief executive meeting that took place after the word had been leaked. "We heard about it first on Twitter," said junior sports marketing major Andy Dick. "But once Mr. Dodds explained the necessity to us, we figured, 'Well, okay, we guess so.' UT's got great administrators, and they always know best. That's why UT is the best."
Jockstrapped for Cash
Contrary to popular belief and widespread media misreporting, the UT football program is not in fact "self-supporting" (see "Football by the (Negative) Numbers") – because the operating expenses often cited do not include the structural debt created by recent massive building programs, including the expansion of the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (now expected to be adapted for intramural sports, freshman business-school lecture classes, and the occasional Ted Nugent concert). In fact, UT's general fund must transfer money into the athletics program to stay current on the approximately $250 million in outstanding debt on construction.
Yet to be determined is what will happen to the scores of university staff members – from coaches to remedial tutors to recruitment hostesses – whose jobs are now in jeopardy. Powers said the physical education and folklore programs are open to some new staffing, although it's unclear how many positions might be available. "We'll review résumés and see where some of these folks might fit in," said Rock Avages, chair of the physical education program. "I'm sure we can use some of them in aerobics and Pilates classes and the like – those have been oversubscribed and underfunded for years – but I'm not sure we can absorb them all," he went on. "And without an infusion of new funding, we certainly can't be expected to match their current salaries."
Folklore Dean Randy Gionfriddo said that there might be room for one or two more professors for the history of popular sports – "Mack Brown sure can tell a story on the recruiting trail" – but he, too, was uncertain how many positions might be available. "Have you seen Bellmont Hall? It's like watching New Orleans fleeing Katrina," he said. "There's only so many evacuees we can accommodate before they have to find a new home."
*Oops! The following correction ran in the April 9, 2010 issue: Due to editorial confusion, we mistakenly reported last week that the University of Texas was ending its football program (and all athletics programs), that the city of Austin would henceforth subsidize UT football, that several UT football players were transferring to other universities, and that Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium would be repurposed for academic functions and additional parking. We have since learned that we were mistaken. We apologize for any inconvenience and promise to never, ever, ever, make similar mistakes again – at least until April 1, 2011.