Hartford Business Journal

Mike Clancy, a professor and member of the “2020 Woodward Task Force” recently had much to say criticizing  Mike Gargano’s article “Athletics did not create the financial crisis at UHart.”   Clancy’s article, published just hours after the Board vote to move from Division I to Division III sports, cites Gargano’s experience as an early 1980’s UH golf coach, as evidence of corrupt intent.  Clancy’s also fails to tell you of Gargano’s distinguished career spanning 40 years overseeing private/public higher education systems in four states. Gargano’s research is on point.

Here are more facts.  During the administration of former president Walter Harrison, the university’s full time undergraduate enrollment grew from 4,007 to 4,750 before leveling off at 4,500 full time students in 2016-2017 when he retired.  As of 2020, that number sits at just over 4,000.  The decline occurring under President Gregory Woodward’s watch was so distressing that Woodward raised merit award dollar amounts to attract and retain more students.  Woodward’s action drastically increased the university discount rate, devaluing the Hartford product.  As a result, athletics was billed for the increased academic awards for students who just happened to be athletes.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If a student tries out for and makes the women’s soccer team, an academic merit award that she earned likely before even joining the team, is billed as an expense to athletics.

About 50 of the department’s 345 athletes earn full scholarships.  The rest are “paying customers.”  The 55 member men’s lacrosse team brings in millions to the university in tuition payments.  Yet 65% of Clancy’s deepening athletic “red ink” comes from financial aid merit awards.  The better the student, the more athletics “owes” its OWN institution.

Judging from the overall 3.5 GPA the athletics department earned in the fall 2020, and the winning of six out of the last seven America East Conference Academic Cups, UH has student athletes who are serious about their studies.  The financial costs for the athletics department lies squarely at Woodward’s doorstep.  He raised merit award amounts, and he expanded “combo aid” (a combination of merit and athletic aid allowable by the NCAA) for student athletes.  President Harrison never wanted to expand this because of the exact situation the university now finds itself in.  This type of prudent judgment left the Harrison administration with an accumulated surplus of $27 million when he retired.

Nationally heralded economist Andy Schwarz stated this type of UH financial aid accounting, found in the Carr Sports Consulting Report, culminated in an egregious $6.2 million “double count error.”  Schwarz states the true cost of a Hartford Division I program is $3.5 million annually, not the outlandish figure reported to the Board.  A Hartford Division III program would cost $2.6 million to operate according to Schwarz, but, absent would be revenue brought in by athletics totaling nearly $2 million in 2017.  Absent would also be an ESPN contract that pays the university an annual sum, enabling communications students to gain hands on experience working game productions.  Absent would also be the current agreement with Hartford Healthcare that pays Hartford’s trainers and strength coaches as their own employees.  Absent would be an Under Armour contract that subsidizes equipment and uniforms. These are enormous savings to the university.  The one-time costs of leaving Division I would be massive, including a $1 million league exit fee, coaches’ contracts, and tens of millions in donor estate plans left to the university only if Hartford were to stay NCAA Division I.

And Clancy’s claim of a large number of violations related to NCAA legislation?  Let’s examine further, shall we?  Some 80% of the “certification” violations involved student-athletes who failed to click a box on their electronic profile that enables the NCAA to begin the process of making sure they are amateurs.

Why did they miss this step?  Some would say because Woodward and staff did not fill the all-important NCAA compliance office properly, often leaving months and long gaps in between hires.

Clancy’s claim that an athletic fee is folded into student tuition?   Not true at Hartford.  There is no D-I fee for athletics, only for use of recreational facilities.

And did Clancy want to hear from non-student athletes on the debate?  6,000 students, families, alumni, and supporters signed a petition to keep Hartford Division I.  This included many faculty members too.  Many of these educators see the value in uniting the campus, not attempting to divide academics and athletics with the age old tiresome “us and them” rhetoric.  As one coach was recently quoted, “Academics is the sun, and athletics, music, and art are the moon. All can shine brightly at Hartford.”

Patricia H. Meiser served as the Director of Athletics at the University of Hartford from 1993 to 2014.

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