News that the University of Minnesota’s women’s basketball coach was quietly given a contract extension by the school’s outgoing athletic director last year put university officials on the defensive Thursday regarding another spending decision.
Women’s basketball coach Pam Borton, whose team is likely to miss out on an NCAA tournament bid for the fourth straight year, was given a two-year extension by former athletic director Joel Maturi two weeks before he left office last June. The extension, which pays Borton a minimum of $485,000 annually for the next three years, was not announced at the time by school officials but was acknowledged Wednesday by Borton.
Borton’s contract extension could cost the school extra money should the university want to terminate her — a buyout now would cost slightly more than $500,000, compared to $335,000 without the extension.
The disclosure comes as the university, including President Eric Kaler and new athletic director Norwood Teague, faced scrutiny over other spending decisions. In October, Teague confirmed the school paid $800,000 to the University of North Carolina to cancel a two-game football series so the university could schedule a lesser opponent in an attempt to bolster the team’s won-loss record.
Kaler faced legislators in January to deny the school’s administrative costs were out of control after the Wall Street Journal reported that, among 72 major research institutions, the Twin Cities campus had the largest share of employees labeled administrators and the school had been “on a spending spree over the past decade.” The Star Tribune also reported last year that former school President Robert Bruininks had agreed to a series of compensation packages worth more than $2.8 million, and that top administrators had routinely been given lengthy paid leaves, then allowed to return or leave the school’s payroll.
The chair of the university’s Board of Regents said Thursday she was unaware of Borton’s extension but said the school needs to be “extremely cautious” in extending personnel contracts amid tightened spending. Chair Linda Cohen added, “the university, as a whole, wants to be very transparent in our contracts and our compensations.” Cohen said the $800,000 payout to the University of North Carolina and the number of administrators “brought up some circumstances that none of us liked.”
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said she, too, was unaware of the extension. “I will investigate further,” she said. Bonoff said her job is to “provide legislative oversight with regard to taxpayer dollars invested in our higher-ed system.”
Teague, who became athletic director July 1, said he was not involved in Borton’s extension but was “made aware” of the deal “on the back end.” He did not criticize it but questioned the university’s failure to publicize a new contract for the highest-paid women’s coach. “I would want to announce it,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. [I] always want to be as transparent as possible.”
University men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith was given a contract extension last July, a move that came after Teague became athletic director.
Borton’s critics have increased in recent years. She led the Gophers to a Final Four appearance in 2003-04, her second year at Minnesota, but barring winning the Big Ten tournament next week the team is likely to again miss out on an NCAA tournament bid. Announced attendance at women’s basketball games, which averaged 9,800 in 2003-04, has been below 3,500 the past three seasons. The program nearly broke even financially in 2003-04, but in 2011-12 operated at a deficit of almost $2 million.
“I’ve been here 11 years, and there’s always critics,” Borton said Wednesday. “I think there’s some people that really want you to fail around here. I think that’s just some of the culture. You can expend your energy worrying about that stuff. [But] you just really have to believe in what you’re doing, and work hard.”
Maturi, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, left the athletic director’s job last summer to be a consultant in Kaler’s office. A school spokesman, asked whether Maturi might be available for comment, said Maturi had a “pretty busy week.”
Maturi’s one-year contract to be a special assistant to the president has also come under scrutiny. Maturi is receiving $351,900 — the same salary he earned as athletic director — as part of a financial package that totals more than $468,000. Kaler defended his decision to retain Maturi, saying Maturi would focus on fundraising. “I absolutely believe this is the right decision for the institution,” Kaler said.