College football, payouts and perception

Gee, nothing new from Barack or Michelle last night or this morning. Sarah Palin appears to be slow in getting her 2012 presidential campaign under way. So on another glorious fall morning here in Northeast Ohio, I’ll opine on college football.

Actually I was thinking about this Tuesday — but clearly there were bigger fish to be fried in the blogging skillet. I read in the Beacon Journal that Phillip Fulmer, the longtime coach at Tennessee, was forced to quit after this season, despite a 150-51 career record there. Kent State should be so lucky. I digress.

Tennessee isn’t doing so hot this year, with a record of 3 and 6. Bye bye Fulmer. And that’s the nature of big-time, mega-buck college football.

But here’s the point. according to the story which I can’t find online, Fulmer signed a new seven-year contract this past summer. And he was doing better than most professors (and even some executive-level administrators, I guess) — getting more than $2 million a season. Now, apparently less than six months after he and the university agreed to this new deal, Fulmer is retiring to the bleachers but with a $6 million contract buyout payable over the next four years.

Wow. I imagine that most of this cash comes from some kind of a booster club or similar organization. And you can be sure that Tennessee football — and similar programs at other universities — generate many times more than $6 million in even a single year in revenues and in exposure for the university.

But there is something wrong here. At a time when students throughout the country are facing higher tuition costs and fees — and with many now having a tough time borrowing money to pay for an education — this creates the wrong perception among many taxpayers, legislators and others. Public relations, in my view, involves honest, ethical communications — and the ability of decision-makers to make the correct decisions and do what’s right. My perception here is that the university — like most — puts football ahead of students. Unfair. Maybe. But hey.

This isn’t unique at Tennessee, of course. And you can’t blame Fulmer; he signed the contract. But everytime this happens — regardless of where — I question the values and motivation of those in charge. Yeah, I know. I’m swimming upstream here. Alumni, students and town folk don’t tailgate before a PR Tactics class. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

By the way, the Beacon Journal has had several articles over the past week or so about how Kent State and the University of Akron are absorbing increased health-care costs for employees. And unfortunately for Kent State, it comes at a time when the university is passing along credit card fees to students, as I understand it. Again, it’s a matter of perception as the Beacon Journal pointed out yesterday in an editoral.

I guess we can be thankful that Kent State stopped playing competitive football in the early 1970s when Don James took off for the University of Washington. Not many mega-buck buyouts for football coaches at KSU.

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