Transparency continues to be an elusive goal for athletic department officials at the University of Minnesota, especially when it comes to spending money.
Last week the Star Tribune reported that women’s basketball coach Pam Borton was quietly given a two-year contract extension by outgoing athletic director Joel Maturi before he packed up his office last year and moved into a one-year fundraising role at the U.
What makes this case particularly odd was that the university never announced the extension. No news conference. No press release. No photo with Goldy and the smiling coach, who will make a minimum of $485,000 annually for the next three years despite declining attendance, a mediocre won-loss record and no NCAA tournament appearances the past three years.
Whether or not Borton deserved the extension is a debate for talk radio and the sports pages. Even if their teams are struggling, Division I schools often extend contracts for coaches if they believe a turnaround is coming. Such votes of confidence can be important for recruiting and fundraising. But with programs as prominent as women’s basketball at the U, it’s extremely unusual for the news to be hush-hush.
Maturi has yet to offer an explanation.
The athletic director who replaced Maturi on July 1, Norwood Teague, said he was not involved in Borton’s contract extension but was made aware of it “on the back end.” He also said he would have favored an announcement. That’s good to hear, although Teague could have set the record straight himself at any time since he was hired.
If you sense a pattern here, it’s understandable. This is the same athletic department that paid the University of North Carolina $800,000 to cancel a two-game football series so that the Gophers could find a weaker opponent and pad its won-loss record.
And it’s the same department that owes the U’s central administration $400,000 a year until 2017 to repay a loan needed to cover buyouts for departed coaches Glen Mason, Dan Monson and Tim Brewster.
The Borton disclosure came just a month after U President Eric Kaler faced scrutiny from legislators over a Wall Street Journal story that made the university a national example of high administrative costs and institutional bloat.
Given recent history, Minnesotans have good reason to expect full transparency from university officials on high-profile decisions that carry large price tags. In the case of the Borton extension, they disappointed.