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Letter: Students should not bail out sports extravagance

Ducks football and basketball are hurting financially, so varsity athletics turns to students to bail them out. This should be denied with no extra charges on student athletics fees — in fact, with no student fees for games that fewer than half the student body attend. Basketball dug its hole with a high-priced new arena, using a $200 million loan from the state for which it now can’t even pay the annual interest. Football is on the verge of sanctions from the NCAA, which should end the University’s ambitions for dominating the sport and filling Autzen Stadium.

Money is ruining college games, and we see it in the wide-ranging football extravagance of the University. Why has it paid $100,000 — with more to come — for a high-priced law firm to represent its football team against the NCAA? Because the college sports governing body is preparing to bring charges of illegal behavior against Ducks football. The University needs to respond. But not with some imported lawyers at such a high price.

The real issue is, why hire lawyers in the first place when this is not a legal case going into court? Oregon, like all member schools, voluntarily is a member of the NCAA, which is there to serve the schools, including assurances they do not cheat each other by breaking rules. While lawyers will not have to speak for Oregon in a court of law, pressures they bring on the NCAA could wind up having the association go easy with its sanctions. Some might say that makes it a good investment.

I was on the University athletics staff 32 years ago, when NCAA punishment came down on Oregon football for enrolling players in a Kansas junior college where they were given automatic passing grades. Head coach Rich Brooks@@http://www.secsportsfan.com/[email protected]@ did not lose his job, but other punishment wound up delaying by years his eventual success in getting Oregon to the Rose Bowl.

Now a year after reports emerged of a new scandal — this one over illegal recruiting of players — the second shoe seems about to drop. When the NCAA charges become formal, the Ducks will face limits on their recruiting. Consistent with the recent firing of the Ohio State coach in a scandal there, Oregon sanctions might mean the firing of coach Chip Kelly. That itself could ease the financial burden, as he is paid almost $100,000 a week (a week!).

Working with his predecessor, Mike Bellotti, Kelly allegedly arranged for a Houston-area football figure to improperly steer a future Heisman Trophy candidate, LaMichael James, to Oregon. He purportedly did the same the following year in getting the best high school player in Texas to come to Oregon. This player dropped out of school in his first year, but the recruiter has not been asked to refund any of the $25,000 records show he was paid by Oregon.

If Kelly should be job-hunting in the near future, he would have no problem with the pros, which have little reluctance to hire winning college coaches even if their ethics may be under question. Early in February, Kelly considered taking the job at Tampa Bay, then changed his mind. I made a phone call to the Tampa Bay football office and asked: “Would you hire Kelly now if he were to leave Oregon?” The source, who said he must not be identified, said: “Absolutely. But there can be no chance for that at this time, as we have hired a new head coach.”

There would be other options for Kelly. He could go to ESPN to join Bellotti, who quit his Oregon job to go there. Mike took with him a controversial $3 million severance payment via a handshake agreement with then-University president Dave Frohnmayer. I’ve not heard that Kelly has a handshake contract. He would not need it. He is paid more than $3 million by Oregon this year, plus a $100,000 bonus for winning the Rose Bowl, where he would not have been without his talented Texas recruit, James.

Some believe University athletics has become morally bankrupt. At the least, they seem headed for financial bankruptcy, and students should not be expected to bail them out.

George Beres
Former University sports information director

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