Columns » Bob McCord

The University of Athletics

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The federal court trial of Nolan Richardson versus the University of Arkansas, now in its 18th day, makes it perfectly clear that the UA has become an athletic rather than an academic university. That's sad but okay, I guess, since it seems that most Arkansans want it that way. They forget or don't seem to care that their state has the fewest college graduates of any state. Arkansans like to have winning football and basketball teams, and it's evident that the teams that win are those at colleges and universities that spend millions of dollars on athletics. The UA is now spending something between $40 and 50 million a year for athletics. While some of us regret it, we Arkansans have to admit that until the University of Arkansas started having winning teams, star athletes and fancy stadiums and arenas, most people didn't have much interest in the university, isolated as it is in the northwest corner of the state. Now since it has become an athletic university, the enrollment has tripled, people fight to pay big prices for tickets, and many persons who live in and even out of Arkansas - including some who were never UA students -- regularly send thousands of dollars to the Razorback Foundation. This is the organization that in secret furnishes the money to fatten the salaries of coaches and anything else the athletic department wants that the university's appropriations can't cover. Last year about this time the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) gave the Razorbacks what the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called "A Slap on the Snout." It put the university's athletic department on a three-year probation because one of the Razorbacks' fans in Dallas (a native of North Little Rock but a Texas A&M graduate) was paying too much money to basketball and football players working at his trucking company in the summer. Some, in fact, were paid who never worked at all. In addition to probation, the NCAA eliminated nine of the university's athletic scholarships, forced a few players to repay some of the money and banned the fan so he could not see another Razorback basketball or football game for the next three years. He was also told that he could not give the athletic department the $225,000 he had pledged. This was nothing new for the Razorbacks. In 1997, the NCAA removed some basketball scholarships and stopped recruiting at junior colleges for two years because an academic counselor was writing the homework for two basketball players. Testimony at the trial has revealed to the public that Football Coach Houston Nutt is receiving more than $1 million a year and Basketball Coach Richardson was being paid $1,030,000 until he was fired and now is being paid $500,000 a year until he finds another job or his six-year contract runs out. Compare those wages to the $220,000 paid to the President of the University of Arkansas system and the average $74,362 paid to its full professors. This trial should have never happened. It is making the university and the state look stupid and prejudiced. The university was warned of Richardson's temperament before he was hired, but Athletic Director Frank Broyles wanted a winning basketball program so in 1985 he hired Richardson. And Richardson gave the fans a great program and, in 1994, the nation's championship basketball team. But he also showed little interest in the grades of his players and often burst into profane attacks in public on Broyles, the fans and the state in general and regularly he complained that the university was not treating him fairly or paying him as much as other coaches because he was black. Just for the record, the university had good basketball teams before winning became more important than learning. From 1925 to 1950, the Razorbacks finished first in the Southwest Conference 13 times, placed second five times and third five times. . Broyles, who has fired five coaches in his 25 years of making our university into a glorious gym, somehow couldn't fire Richardson, who stayed at the university for 17 years despite his furors. Finally, Broyles went to Chancellor John White and said that Richardson had to go. But it took White two years to agree, and that didn't happen until White said Richardson warned him that firing him would create a race riot on the campus. Even then there had to be some way to prevent this lawsuit coming to court. Anything would have been better than having sports pages and TV stations all over the country sending reporters here to report this unusual trial and poke fun at Arkansas. The lawyers on both sides are among the best in the state, and the bills they will submit probably would pay for the education of a dozen kids at the University of Arkansas.

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