Vandy Tidbits: High comedy in Hawgland

You may have heard last week that the University of Arkansas extended Athletics Director Frank Broyles' contract for five years. What you might have missed were the events leading up to the announcement-- which were the stuff of high comedy.

You may have heard last week that the University of Arkansas extended Athletics Director Frank Broyles' contract for five years. What you might have missed were the events leading up to the announcement-- which were the stuff of high comedy.

The 78-year-old Broyles, now in his 45th year at Arkansas and in reasonably good health, had hoped to stay on for a few more years as athletic director. But as recently as two weeks ago, it appeared that reform-minded Chancellor John White was determined to steer Broyles into another position in the Razorback athletic department and look elsewhere for a new AD. Or at least that was the rumor, after White abruptly cancelled a meeting with Broyles at which Broyles' future was to be discussed.

The situation was somewhat similar to that at the University of Georgia, where President Michael Adams declined recently to renew the contract of revered AD Vince Dooley. Almost a month after the fact, it's safe to say the brouhaha in the Peach State over Adams' decision has still not died down. The heat is still very much on Adams, who seems to have lost much of his political clout.

But I digress. Chancellor White denied that he planned to steer Broyles into another position, but did cannily tell the media that "other options" were open to Broyles should he choose to pursue them. The Arkansas press speculated that White was about to pull a bold power play on Broyles, much as Adams had done to Dooley one month earlier.

The relationship between White and Broyles had reportedly grown icy-cool in recent months. The two had clashed over a number of issues, some of which involved the eligibility of athletes. But if there was any kind of a tiff, White attempted to downplay it.

Then Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Scott Cain obtained, under the Freedom of Information Act, a videotape of a May 8 meeting between White and the Arkansas men's and women's athletic staffs. On the tape, White appeared to try to embarrass Broyles by grouping him in a video presentation with photos depicting disgraced coaches Mike DuBose of Alabama and Jim Harrick of Georgia, and officials from the University of Kentucky's football program.

The presentation, though subject to interpretation, didn't sit well with Broyles. "I thought that put Arkansas in there with three schools that the coaches and the staff had gotten their schools in trouble and put us in a bad light when our problems were not with any coach or the staff," Broyles told the Democrat-Gazette. "And I thought it was unfortunate."

But the most damning part of the videotape came later. It reportedly caught White saying, "The third thing that I learned that I have tried to apply is when you're asked a question by media, I always give an answer, but try to answer the question you wish they had asked. They keep at it and I just give them the answer to the question I wish they had asked -- (White starts chuckling) until they sort of go away."

It was an admission reminiscent of Richard Nixon-- except that unlike Nixon, White had failed to leave an 18-minute gap on the tape. Once the tape was in the hands of the media, White was roundly, and deservedly, raked over the coals. Any credibility he had, on Broyles' future or any other issue, was suddenly shot.

White, who was headed out of town for a vacation, hurriedly called Broyles from the airport to extend Broyles' contract. In a power clash between Broyles and White, chalk up a victory for Broyles. Meanwhile White hastily got out of Dodge, er Fayetteville, to avoid having to face the media.

That now makes two SEC Presidents (White and Adams)-- coincidentally and sadly, two of Vandy Chancellor Gordon Gee's biggest allies in the battle for academic reform-- with egg on their faces as a result of their micromanagement of athletic affairs. History teaches that Presidents at the SEC's state universities don't last long when they become too meddlesome in the sports arena (witness: Joab Thomas at Alabama). As Jim Croce once put it, you don't tug on Superman's cape.

In the last year there have been encouraging signs that the SEC Presidents seemed determined to regain control of the issues that have tarnished the conference's reputation. They've brought in Mike Slive as Commissioner, who's determined to help usher in a new era of compliance. As a group, the Presidents seem to have their hearts in the right place when it comes to championing academic reform and rules compliance-- and I daresay most Vanderbilt fans are in their corner.

But if they persist in bungling personnel issues, as White and Adams have done recently-- it could ultimately bring irreparable damage to the cause.

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While much of the recent news in the fight for higher academic standards around the SEC has been bad, there was some good news last week, from an unlikely source-- the University of Tennessee.

Incoming UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton, who replaces the retiring Doug Dickey July 1, has signed a four-year contract, which includes a number of incentives designed to encourage higher academic standards for Volunteer student-athletes.

According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Hamilton's contract calls for financial bonuses for (A) improvement in the combined GPA of male student-athletes, (B) improvement in the combined GPA of African-American male student-athletes, (C) improvement in the graduation rate for male student-athletes, and (D) football players who achieve Academic All-American status. (One can be certain that UT never gave Dickey any such incentives.)

UT President John Shumaker deserves some serious credit for structuring Hamilton's contract in this unprecedented way. (I could comment on the circumstances that must have led Shumaker to make such bold and stark changes-- but I'll ignore the urge, and simply offer my sincere congratulations and hearty approval.)

According to an article a few months ago in The Tennessean, UT officials were in Nashville a while back consulting with Vanderbilt Director of Athletics Todd Turner regarding ways to structure the new UT athletic director's contract. Based on the details of the resulting contract, UT officials must have relied heavily on Turner's input.

Now though, one has to wonder-- how does the Tennessee fan base feel about the fact that the contract for its new athletic director was largely modeled on a similar one at Vanderbilt?

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Contact Brent at brent@vandynation.com


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