Coach buyouts controversial

Courtney Blanchard

On top of having to rebuild two coaching staffs, the University is receiving flak from a few state legislators for spending millions of dollars to buy out the coaching contracts.

In November, the University’s Board of Regents approved a request for $123.4 million in state funding for the 2008-2009 biennium. Several lawmakers said they are cautious about granting such an amount if tax-payer money goes toward buying out failed coaches’ contracts, but University officials said taxpayer money will not be used.

University officials estimate the athletics department will need to borrow about $2.9 million to buy out the remainder of the contracts of former men’s basketball coach Dan Monson and former football coach Glen Mason.

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R- Rogers) and Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) will introduce a bill this week on the House floor that would ban the use of state money for paying the costs of early termination of a coach.

While the athletics department will have to pay the contracts with its own revenue, the controversy arose because the department may have to borrow University funds to pay off the contracts.

In a press release, Seifert called it unacceptable that central administration funds (including tuition and state appropriations) could go toward the buyouts.

Peppin also expressed concern about college affordability and where state money goes in the University system.

“Going forward, I want to be clear that no taxpayer funds go towards these buyouts,” Peppin said.

Kyle Coughlin, senior associate director of athletic communications, said the department will pay for the buyouts over a period of time.

Department funds come from ticket sales, media contracts and a variety of other sources – but not state money, he said.

Coughlin said buying out a coach is not a special circumstance.

He said this situation was unique, however, because two high-profile coaches lost their jobs in a short amount of time, “but across the country there are lots of coaches that lose their jobs.”

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said the athletics department will receive a loan from the central administration fund, just like when any department or college faces an “unexpected expenditure and doesn’t have sufficient resources to cover (it).”

Pfutzenreuter added that these loans are typically paid back with interest over six or seven years on a payment schedule.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said he didn’t see an issue with loaning University funds to athletics because of the interest paid.

“We could certainly make an argument that if they were taxpayer dollars, that taxpayers are actually making money off of it,” he said.

Wolter added that some of the controversy may come from the fact that the University has the only NCAA Division I Athletics program in the state, and the price for the coaching contracts is higher than other Minnesota schools.

“But as Joel Maturi has explained, the time was right for change in both these programs,” Wolter said.

The real issue some legislators have with the situation may have more to do with friction between academic and athletic programs.

Peppin, a graduate of the University’s Duluth campus, said there’s too much emphasis on sports at the University and not enough on research and academics.

“This bill really is an attempt to stop the madness of more and more emphasis on what has been a futile attempt by the ‘U’ to buy a winning football team,” Peppin said.

The DFL caucus has been relatively quiet on the issue, and Peppin said only GOP legislators had expressed support as of last week.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) did not return calls, but issued a vague statement: “If this is a legitimate concern, we’ll be more than happy to look into it.”