Last week, the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, for both the school itself and the Athletic Department both met. Both boards separately decided to amend the lease that the university has with the KFC Yum Center. In short, UL will have to pay more annually to use the facility and will lose some of the top choice date preferences that the Cardinals have enjoyed since the facility opened in 2010. Not to rehash the gory details, but suffice it to say that the special tax district created by the Arena Authority, City of Louisville and State of Kentucky didn’t produce enough revenue to pay off the bonds. No surprise there because almost every stadium that gets built ends up falling to the taxpayers to pick up the tab once the game plan falls through and Yum is no different. What’s different about Yum is the deal that the University of Louisville negotiated to use the facility.
Since Louisville started playing at Yum, the men’s basketball team has become “the most profitable basketball program in the country.” And that’s fantastic and should be a point of pride for Card Nation, but… at what cost does that happen? Unlike the University of Kentucky, the UL athletic department is still subsidized by the university’s academic side. And when you take into account the Yum Center deal, it’s hard to feel good about profitability when bills aren’t getting paid. The question should be for UL, as with all colleges and universities, how should the skill co-exist with and work with the community in which it resides?
When the deal between UL and Yum became public and details came out about how it’s not even in Louisville’s interest for Yum to become profitable (if the Arena Authority defaults, UL has the right of first refusal to buy the facility outright). Lots of folks in Red lauded Cardinal Athletic Director Tom Jurich about his deal making acumen. That sentiment was echoed by several board members that said of the new deal “if we were an NBA team, we’d leave town.” The thing is, the University of Louisville is not a professional team. The goal of the university and its athletic department shouldn’t be to screw over the City of Louisville simply because of the opportunity to do so.
And so Louisville interim president Dr. Greg Postel re-negotiated the Yum Center deal. Whether or not the special tax district failed (and boy did it ever), the university owed it to the city and taxpayers to help shoulder the burden. No one likes it, but there’s no way the mayor of Louisville, the Metro Council or state leaders were going to shoulder $30 million per year to service the Yum debt while UL continued to be the most profitable program in America. The old deal was simply not sustainable. The writing has been on the wall that the deal would need to be redone for awhile, but a lot of folks in Red took umbrage with the fact that Postel, allegedly, kept “the best athletic director in the country”, Tom Jurich, out of the loop.
At some point, someone was going to have to stop the flow of bad news, bad press and embarrassing situations coming from Card Land. One week, Dr. Postel is sitting down reviewing a scathing audit of his predecessor and the academic side of the university. The next week, he’s sitting at a press conference as the NCAA describes in great detail its case against the men’s basketball team, putting the 2013 NCAA title in jeopardy. Look, Louisville is not the first school to go through such transgressions. Card fans will remind you of Kentucky’s past NCAA issues (especially the Kentucky’s Shame Sports Illustrated cover). And they’re quick to point out that there are tons of other schools that have done pretty dastardly things and run afoul of the NCAA. But, there’s one thing that’s usually omitted from the discussion.
In all of those other instances, high ranking folks were held accountable and people lost jobs. Eddie Sutton was out in Lexington. Jim Tressel was gone from Ohio State. Every time Miami (FL) gets in trouble, the Hurricanes washed the slate clean. Rarely does the NCAA look kindly on the folks that cause a mess staying around to clean it up and being indignant that they were called to the carpet about the issue. The defiance from UL regarding both the Yum Center lease and the NCAA infractions committee has been astounding.
Dr. Postel has an unenviable job. Recently, the university revealed that donations have dropped off from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017 by nearly 24.1%. And most donors stressed that they haven’t given up on the University of Louisville, but something has to be done. I grew up a Cardinal fan. My mother, father, brothers, and tons of extended family members are Card fans, alums, and students. For the good people that root for and support Louisville, someone needs to step up and say, “the buck stops here.” Someone needs to say that the University of Louisville won’t become synonymous with winning at all costs, cutting corners and being indifferent to the community. Someone needs to say that the university, both athletically and academically is going to do things the right way. The time of passing the buck is over.