By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It is time someone gets to the bottom of what is going on financially within West Virginia University and its athletic department.
The school and the athletic department seem to be at a crucial point in their history, a point where state financing to the school is being cut, where the athletic department has changed conferences and, to be honest, changed direction and gone on an unprecedented expansion of facilities and spending splurge in coaches’ contracts.
This has pulled the two factions within the university in seemingly opposite directions, creating friction and outright anger.
In the midst of this, the school and athletic department have come under an assault from one segment of the media, the latest part of which came with them questioning athletic director Oliver Luck’s travel over the past few years, missing WVU games while attending his son’s games with Stanford and Indianapolis in the NFL.
Questions about who financed these trips — Luck himself or the university — and what the true purpose of the trips was were stonewalled by the school.
The questions were legitimate ones, not necessarily because Luck may have broken any rules with his travel — although there are trained legal minds who well may conclude that he did — but instead because of the timing.
Think, for a moment, of the timing involved. It came at a time when the Mountaineers were moving from the Big East to the Big 12, a move that cost them a $20 million exit fee to escape the disintegrating conference, leading to $12.9 million deficit last year and an estimated $50,000 deficit this year.
This certainly left the Mountaineer athletic department in a financial hole.
In fact, listen to what Luck had to say at the time he announced the deficit:
“We knew going into the Big 12 that the first couple or three years would be a financial hardship. And so far it has been,’’ Luck said. “But you have to look at it mid-term to long-term. Last year was difficult. This year and the upcoming year are still going to be tough.
“But when you crunch the numbers you have to recognize that those tough years will disappear.’’
Not if you spend yourself into an even deeper hole.
Just that timing wasn’t all that exaggerated any perception of financial indiscretion on Luck or the university’s part.
Consider the financial situation the university itself was in.
There was a $13 million cut in state funding to the school, leading to an announcement that tuition would be raised and no pay raises would be forthcoming for university employees.
This, one may safely assume, was not an announcement greeted with celebrations.
But however deep that cut was, it was not a tourniquet being applied when the athletic department confirmed rather sizeable pay raises scheduled through their contracts would be honored for football coach Dana Holgorsen and basketball coach Bob Huggins.
One could argue that considering the year those two had – Holgorsen going 7-6 and losing rather badly in an undistinguished Pinstripe Bowl to an undistinguished opponent in Syracuse and Huggins missing post-season play with his only losing season since his first year as a head college – most college professors were far more deserving of raises.
So here’s what you have … Holgorsen getting $500,000 more this coming year and Huggins $50,000 more while professors and janitors will just make do on what they made because the school is tightening its belt.
Now it’s true that technically the athletic budget is separate from the school’s budget … sort of, although it’s hard to imagine WVU’s expense item for scholarship money paid as a cost when it is paying it to the school, which lists it as income. From one pocket to another, but neither a cost nor an income to either in the overall picture.
Now the athletic department clearly has an obligation to pay Holgorsen and Huggins those raises under the contracts that all agreed upon and no one begrudges anyone that.
Of course, neither Holgorsen nor Huggins is under any obligation to take the money.
Each makes enough of a living that they aren’t clipping coupons at the grocery store.
Perhaps could donate it for pay raises to university employees?
The point is, that we have reached a point in time where some independent outside panel should look into the finances of the school and the athletic department, a thorough and comprehensive study that includes all financial areas, including Luck’s travel and the dealings over the athletic department’s Tier 3 negotiations, the reseating within the Coliseum and the raise in the required donations for football seats, all of which has stirred up what had been a loyal public.
This entire mess has grown to such proportions and entangles both the university’s finances and the athletic department’s finances, creating a situation where a soccer coach finds a way to get a new locker room built, where a football coach gets a new weight room to go with a raise and a $300,000 retention bonus next year but a math professor can’t get a 3 percent raise that someone has to come in and work it out.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org follow on Twitter @bhertzel.