Oliver Luck: ‘No pheasant under glass’ for college athletes

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NCAA Executive Vice President Oliver Luck wants you to know college athletes aren’t being served "pheasant under glass." And there’s no arms race in college athletics, although not everyone wholly agrees.

Spending on college athletics continues to be a hot topic nationally as it was at last week’s IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City.

A panel of university leaders at the forum concluded that while there are some spending problems in college athletic departments, itis largely done responsibly by today’s athletic directors.

The panel conceded that escalating pressures are causing some schools to punch above their weight—unwisely in some instances.

When asked by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal college writer Michael Smith whether athletic spending is out of control, Luck responded: “I’m not sure it’s out of control. … As a former athletic director, we have all these projects going on, but these are responsible projects. Do we have to get every bang for our buck? Sure. I’m not sure there is any real crisis in spending, but certainly we can do a better job getting bang for the buck. … The vast majority of these decisions are based on what these campuses need. There are a lot of eyeballs on these projects, which leads me to believe they are responsible projects at the end of the day.”

Learfield Sports CEO Greg Brown also rejected the notion that ADs are spending irresponsibly, saying, “Schools are identifying targets that they need to improve or develop and then they go out and raise that revenue to support their initiative. They aren’t sitting on a pot of gold and then trying to find the way to spend that revenue. The reverse is true.”

But what about the arms race in college athletics we keep hearing about?

“There is probably some spending that is probably over the top,” said American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco. “I don’t think you need to have Taj Mahals everywhere. Much more important is how smart you are in spending your money.”

Aresco doesn’t think schools attract top student-athletes merely by providing shiny, new facilities.

“I think you attract good student athletes by the type of coaches you have,” he said.

However, Indiana and Purdue, along with just about every other Division I NCAA school, has had some type of major athletics renovation or building project in the last decade at a cost of tens—in some cases hundreds—of millions of dollars.

Former Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti suggested that in some cases there may actually be too much input on athletic spending and projects. Rutgers is one of the newest members of the Big Ten.

“There was never a project that we studied or put forth that wasn’t being done with probably too many chefs in the kitchen,” said Pernetti, now the IMG College president of multimedia. “Everyone was involved and nothing gets done unilaterally. I think the challenge on the spending is there is a line between functional and fascinating. And everyone is going for the ‘wow’ factor for recruiting. Everybody is trying to find something nicer, brighter. That is a big difference. Our goal at Rutgers was to make buildings nice and functional, to make the experience for student-athletes better. But there is a line there, and if you can afford to push the line a little bit, and if you can push it to make something look better and nicer than someone else’s, people will do it.”

Luck, the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, bristled at a question at the forum about whether nutritional deregulation and food service for athletes is becoming an “arms race.”

“I would take a bit of an issue with that,” Luck said. “Basically, we are trying to feed kids who are busy, trying to get to class, trying to get to a film session or a practice. Maybe they are grabbing a sandwich. I’ve yet to see pheasant under glass at any institution. We are talking grab-and-go stations.

“That’s probably something that was a necessity. The worse thing in the world is for a kid to go to a practice who is not healthily nourished. There is probably a safety concern. I would not go as far as to say nutrition is the new arms race. I think it’s a responsible thing to do for our kids.”

The former Rutgers AD agreed.

“That’s a necessity, and if you’re not doing it, you’re doing a disservice to your athletes,” he said.

IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum was sponsored by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, which reported extensively on the two-day event held Dec. 9-10. The quotes from above were taken from transcripts provided by SBJ.


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