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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

UT finally gives support to athletics

Including base salary and marketing income, the University of Toledo's new men's basketball coach, Gene Cross, will be paid $310,000 per year. His predecessor earned $177,000.

Tricia Cullop, the new women's basketball coach, will make $200,000 annually, an increase of more than $73,000 over her predecessor's income.

Savage Hall is in the midst of a $30 million renovation, only about half of which is covered by an athletic department capital fund-raising campaign.

So I approached UT athletic director Mike O'Brien the other day and, like wide receiver Rod Tidwell in the movie Jerry

Maguire, screamed, "Show me the money!"

OK, I didn't actually scream. I asked politely. And O'Brien's equally polite and well-measured response was, "There will be an increased level of institutional support."

Now, there's no really polite way to say this, so we'll scream it - It's about time!!!!

UT's athletic department has, for years, received a lower percentage of institutional support - student fees money, general fund money, etc. - than was the case at about any Mid-American Conference school. One of O'Brien's predecessors told me a number of years ago that the Rocket athletic department had to raise about 70 per cent of its annual operating budget. O'Brien admits to a 60 per cent figure in recent years. Meanwhile, there are competing MAC schools out there that kick in more than 90 per cent of their athletic departments' operating budgets.

UT has nonetheless done OK. The folks in the athletic department have worked their hineys off at fund-raising and sponsorship sales and creating advertising revenue; they've counted paper clips and put band-aids on facilities; they've done a reverse Robin Hood, robbing from the poor to give to the rich, to keep major sports competitive; they've hired the best coaches out there who also fit the salary profile.

But times have changed. The corporate climate has changed in Toledo, meaning the corporate support for UT athletics has changed. The economy stinks.

Herbert Hoover once defined prosperity as "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." Have you checked the price of chicken lately? Not to mention a car or two or three. Not a lot of us have a lot left over after we've filled those gas tanks.

Times have changed in college athletics, too. The BCS conference schools, with more resources to begin with, swallow the bowl dollars and the TV dollars and can better afford the can-you-top-this mentality on facilities and coaches' salaries.

Mid-majors like Toledo and other MAC schools pick at the scraps, yet have to find a way to live with the BCS-driven market price of doing business.

With all due respect to folks like O'Brien, the athletic director is no longer the central character in this mid-major game.

It has to be the university president and Toledo finally has one who recognizes that the price of doing business is slipping from his athletic department's grasp.

Ironically, Dr. Lloyd Jacobs may be less of a fan and athletic aficionado than many of his predecessors, yet he recognizes that a school's sports programs are the windows through which many people view a university.

The head coaches of UT's three major sports, including football's Tom Amstutz, will earn $815,000 during the 2008-09 school year. About the same will be spent on new turf for the Glass Bowl between now and the '08 season opener. And the school is on the hook for almost $150,000 to former men's hoops coach Stan Joplin should he not get another job, which would lower or erase UT's commitment, in the next year.

And that's just the tip of the operational iceberg.

Harry Truman, since we're into quoting dead presidents here, once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Jacobs will get plenty of heat from some UT academicians when those numbers become known, but I gather he's comfortable in the kitchen when he knows he's right.

O'Brien feels he got the people Toledo needs with these recent hires. He feels Cross and Cullop both have "it."

They will promote their programs, work the room, create a buzz, and win. Those hires and the much-needed renovation of Savage Hall have "created an enthusiasm we haven't had in some time," O'Brien said.

So he'll sink or swim with these coaches. But it had to start with a life preserver thrown from University Hall in his direction.

It's about time!!!!

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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