Say What?

The hammer didn't drop, but neither was there a bouquet of flowers delivered. Iowa State finally made a definitive statement, sort of, about the status of its athletic director. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

At about 2:30 on Thursday afternoon, Iowa State released the following press release pertaining to the future of its current athletic director:

ISU Athletics Director Appointment Extended

AMES, Iowa - Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy today announced an extension and change in the employment agreement with Athletics Director Bruce Van De Velde.

Effective July 1, 2005, Van De Velde will become an "exempt Professional and Scientific" employee rather than a contract employee. Van De Velde has worked under contract since he joined Iowa State Nov. 15, 2000. His contract expires June 30, 2005.

"This change makes the employment agreement with the athletics director consistent with that of other senior administrators who report directly to me," Geoffroy said. "Bruce and I agreed to this change during our recent conversations about his contract."

Under terms of the contract, Van De Velde and Geoffroy were required to begin discussions about a new or extended contract by June 30, 2004. "It was important for us to complete this discussion now so that Bruce can focus on preparations for the 2004-05 athletics season," Geoffroy said.

"Bruce has done an excellent job of leading the Athletics Department, particularly through the very serious budget challenges that the university and the department have faced. He has taken positive steps to increase revenue while also being mindful of the interests of our fans and the welfare of our student-athletes, and I have confidence in his continued leadership of our athletics program," Geoffroy said.

Professional and Scientific (P&S) is a category of employment at Iowa State that includes administrators, staff, some researchers and others. Exempt P&S employees serve at the pleasure of their supervisors, and they are evaluated annually against a set of performance objectives established by their supervisors.

Van De Velde's predecessor, Gene Smith, held a similar exempt P&S appointment.

"I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue serving as athletics director at Iowa State," Van De Velde said. "I am extremely proud of our staff and the efforts they make on behalf of our student-athletes."

As athletics director, Van De Velde manages a $27 million budget that includes 11 intercollegiate sports for women and seven for men.

Well, that will certainly quell any further speculation about Mr. Van De Velde's future, won't it?

Please note the sarcasm. Let me get this straight; Mr. Van De Velde came to Iowa State in 2000 with a multi-year contract, and he's being "extended" to a year-to-year deal? He now enjoys the job security of at-will employment, serving at the leisure of his supervisor like everyday working stiffs such as you and me.

The problem is Mr. Van De Velde isn't an everyday working stiff, he's the CEO of a $27 million company known as the Iowa State athletic department. And that job is difficult enough without demeaning the man holding the position to nearly lame-duck status.

If a girl you had the hots for ever put the statement "let's just be friends" in press release form through a publicist it would read something like this. As someone that often wonders aloud whether those in charge of disseminating information to the media and public at our major in-state universities often think before they act, I have to say I am impressed with the wording of this conundrum.

Any attempts to read between the lines, interpret, or translate by the reader are almost completely shot down at first glance. I read this thing thoroughly almost a dozen times before I really began to feel for it.

And here's what my gut is telling me—this is a very clever attempt by the administration to let Mr. Van De Velde ultimately decide his own fate without getting any blood on their hands. The problem is, with this lack of a mandate from his superior, it seems that Mr. Van De Velde's chances of consolidating his influence and support within his own athletic department is at least somewhat diminished.

There is no question that Mr. Van De Velde has his detractors, including some inside the Jacobson Building, despite a pretty strong administrative record to campaign for an extension on. If numbers told the whole story, then retaining Mr. Van De Velde would be an easy call for university president Gregory Geoffrey.

However, as with any chief executive job, there is a ceremonial aspect to the position. You have to be able to lead and rally people, especially during trying times like the entire year 2003 turned out to be. Mr. Van De Velde has several good qualities as an athletic director, but exercising the bully pulpit isn't one of them. I think even Mr. Van De Velde would tell you his oratory skills wouldn't make anyone recall Daniel Webster.

With the deadline to decide whether to begin negotiations for an extension past next year looming on June 30th, Dr. Geoffrey carefully considered the word of just about every living soul inside the athletic department, especially what Wayne Morgan, Bill Fennelly, and Dan McCarney had to say.

Three weeks ago, my sources indicated to me a formal extension was forthcoming for Mr. Van De Velde. Yet in the final days before I went on my vacation, I began to hear rumblings from little birdies I respect that wasn't necessarily the case. As I reported on our premium State of the Nation board earlier this week, the buzz I was hearing was that no extension was in the offing after all. Instead, word was ISU would just allow the matter to run its course.

At that time I didn't want to believe it, because In my opinion that was the most asinine option, not to mention the most cruel one.

Even a sadist would have to agree Mr. Van De Velde and Iowa State have been through enough during his tenure. Either renew the marriage vows or go your separate ways, but don't allow this scab to fester any longer.

Unfortunately, this was the option chosen by Dr. Geoffrey in the aforementioned press release.

Yes, I know the release explicitly points out that Mr. Van De Velde's beloved predecessor, Gene Smith, also operated on a similar year-to-year status. But Mr. Van De Velde isn't in the same strong public position Gene Smith was, and the release doesn't state whether Smith was ever "upgraded" from a multi-year to year-to-year status.

To put this alleged extension into perspective, back in 2002 the University of Iowa extended Bob Bowlsby's contract through 2008. Now that's what I call an extension. Some of you may argue that Mr. Van De Velde does not deserve that level of support. If so, is Thursday's solution better for Iowa State?

I would humbly suggest it isn't. Rather, I read it as an effort by an administration either unwilling or unable to make a strong statement in this matter to find a way to play Pontius Pilate. By giving Mr. Van De Velde a toothless "extension" they appease his detractors within the fan and alumni base. By refusing to outright let Mr. Van De Velde go, they get to claim loyalty to their embattled athletic director.

If I were a university president, facing already daunting budget issues everywhere else on campus, and I were unsure of how to find victory in this Kobayashi Maru scenario, this would be the perfect handoff.

Politically, it's a shrewd move, and demonstrates there's much more to Dr. Geoffrey than his outward high school chemistry teacher persona reveals. But was this leadership?

The good folks inside the Iowa State athletic department have been through enough where this ordeal is concerned. They, along with Cyclone Nation, deserved some closure on this hot button issue.

Instead, at least for the time being, it appears the show will go on.

(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)


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