by Max Brantley
This may be old news to Hogoholics, but searching for some information on a rumor about a splashy new acquisition for the University of Arkansas athletic department's use, I breezed through the Razorback Foundation website and found a news release recently on the new Priority Points Program.
It's kind of like an airline frequent flier program. The more points you accrue, the better your seats at Razorback games. The full rollout isn't until January 2014. Generally speaking, of course, money generally equals points. Here's a brochure on the plan.
"The Razorback Priority Points System marks an important milestone in the history of the Razorback Foundation," Razorback Foundation Executive Director Sean Rochelle says. "It is the centerpiece of our commitment to more effectively engage our members while enhancing their membership experience. As one of only three SEC programs not utilizing a priority points system, we have been limited in our ability to measure the full value of our members' contributions."
"With the Razorback Priority Points System, we will have the ability to recognize the loyalty and contributions of our long time members while providing new donors an opportunity to become active in supporting our program. We are confident that this will not only increase member satisfaction, but also provide a system that accurately gauges all aspects of Razorback Foundation support."
New big money will be able to outpoint old small money for prime seats if given in large enough amounts, but a bonus will attach to annual giving over time and increases in annual giving. One sore spot has cropped up already with at least one fan I heard on one of the sports yak shows. As long as historical giving continues at the same level, fans won't have seat downgrades. But, beginning in 2014, parking is going to be allotted strictly on the point system. So some people with long records of smaller gifts may get bumped.
Athletic Director Jeff Long and the Foundation tout the new system as a blow for transparency. Status will be Internet searchable. A clear point system will determine privileges.
All well and good. But to repeat: Full transparency arrives only on the day when Razorback Foundation business is fully transparent. The coordination of seating privileges by Jeff Long and the Foundation illustrates clearly that this is merely a scheme to funnel a significant portion of the dollars paid to get good seats to a private, tax-exempt organization that must make only limited public disclosures. Someday, somebody in Arkansas will argue as others have in other states that the state Freedom of Information Act should pierce the Foundation veil. It is supported by publicly appropriated money beginning, but by no means ending, with the athletic director's salary.
Here's the most recent financial data available on the Foundation, a federal form 990 for the year ending June 30, 2011. It was still paying off former director Chuck Dicus that year, plus that year it paid Frank Broyles $380,000 and Bobby Petrino (remember him?) $200,000 for "speaking engagements." It reported revenue of $29 million; expenses of $14.8 million, and net assets of $25.6 million.