Sunday, May 4, 2014

UAA| Two words reveal a lot to potential donors, and the message is run away ...

Friday was an interesting day.  The NCAA finally released its report on the investigation of UAA's women's basketball program that began nearly two years ago.  I was familiar with one aspect; the second less so.

The results of the investigation?  First, as reported by the Anchorage Daily News, the NCAA found that a former coach at one point "used his own money to help cover housing costs for two players" when he discovered that financial support he had promised to the players and their families would not be forthcoming from the University.  A violation, yes; but the honorable thing to do under the circumstances, absolutely yes.

The second, again quoting the ADN, was that a booster -- that would be me -- committed a "minor, or secondary, violation [by providing] ... transportation, meals and entertainment to players during an East Coast road trip in 2011."

I have previously described the "transportation [and] meals."  The "entertainment" apparently refers to the tour of Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, I arranged during the time the team was in Charlottesville to play the University of Virginia.  I have been to Monticello often and the word "entertainment" has never come to mind -- "educational," "inspiring" and "uplifting" are the words I most often associate with the experience and the reason I took the occasion to provide the same opportunity to the team and coaches while they were in town -- but I suppose the NCAA prefers its own classifications.

I have written extensively on this experience with the NCAA and the University elsewhere on these pages -- for example, here ("UAA, the NCAA and me ..."), here ("UAA Athletics remain badly broken, and why fixing it is important ...") and here (" UAA, its Kangaroo Court and the Board of Regents ...") -- and I don't intend to rehash that ground again.

But the NCAA's final report contains two key words that the NCAA itself thought important to add and which reveal a lot about UAA to potential donors.

The report is available here.  The description of my involvement is at p. 5 (Section V.); the penalty assessed for that involvement is discussed at p. 8-9 (Section VI.8).  The two key words appear at the end of the first sentence in the penalty section.  I have included them in bold here:
The institution has disassociated the [booster], stating that it will 'decline all assistance and prohibit all athletics benefits and privileges.' (Institution imposed)
By inserting the words "Institution imposed," the NCAA made clear it is distancing itself from the penalty, intentionally hi-liting that it is entirely UAA's doing, not its.  Under NCAA precedent, such a "secondary" violation (Section I., p. 1) does not carry such a penalty.  The NCAA is making clear that this case is not changing that precedent.

Instead, as I discussed in a previous note, this is a "punishment" that UAA has made up entirely on its own.

But why.  That's the important story, and why it resonates beyond just this situation.

At some point during the investigation I came to understand that Steve Cobb, the Athletic Director at the time the investigation began and someone with whom I always had a rocky relationship, described me to the NCAA as a "high maintenance" booster.  I chuckled.  That appeared to be a good thing when everything was going fine -- and when Cobb asked me, and I agreed, to contribute $50,000 to the University's Legacy Fund.

In a feature article on UAA's website which appeared, ironically enough, six months after the now-offending Virginia trip and which mentions that trip repeatedly in glowing terms, UAA had this to say:
Keithley is a champion-level supporter of Seawolf athletics and you can find his name on the Seawolf Legacy Wall, which honors donors in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. Better still, you can find the man himself at as many home and away games as his busy work schedule will allow. ... He was excited to meet up with UAA’s women’s basketball team on his other home turf in Washington, D.C. early in their season [during which] the team met Alaska’s congressional delegation and received a personal tour of the State Capitol from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
But that "high maintenance" thing evidently took a turn for the worse when I, as people who make significant investments in things regularly do, expressed concerns early in the summer of 2012 as the UAA program -- in which I was heavily invested and actively promoting to others -- started seriously going off the rails.

First, UAA announced what I and others came to call the "Great Alaska Ticket Spree," then, much more darkly, hired without outside involvement a person with a very troubling past to become the women's basketball coach, and then to make matters even worse, refused to provide releases to the women in the program as they sought to flee the resulting chaos after the new coach imploded, severely (and unfairly) altering the trajectory of some of their careers.

By heavily investing in and promoting a program to others, most investors anticipate that they have earned the right, and indeed accepted the responsibility, to offer thoughts on how to get a program back on track when it starts going wrong.  The University of Alaska's own Donor's Bill of Rights appears to contemplate the same thing.  At least that's the way other institutions interpret their versions of the document.

Potential future investors in UAA should understand, however, that UAA appears strongly to disagree.

UAA's version of acceptable conduct appears to be to give them money and allow yourself to be promoted as an example to others, period.  Once you start expressing differing opinions from theirs about the program, they will feel free to start making up their own, "Institution imposed" rules  in response.  In short, UAA wants only passive investors, willing to go along quietly with whatever misadventures its programs pursue.  Donors shouldn't worry about exercising any rights ... because they don't have any.

Those who follow basketball will know what I mean when I say that sort of approach doesn't work well for Mark Cuban.  It also doesn't work well for me, and I anticipate, numerous others.

For me, I'm done dealing with this.  After reading the NCAA report, which confirmed my worst suspicions about what UAA had been up to behind closed doors, I advised UAA on Friday afternoon that I was terminating any further support to the University -- whether related to the Athletics Department or otherwise -- and asked them to terminate any further charges to the credit card I had on file with them.

For the first time during their "investigation" UAA complied with its "Donor's Bill of Rights."  In a three sentence reply which left out the part about thanking me for past donations and support, they said they would.  While they struggle at attracting and maintaining investors, apparently at least they become efficient when terminating those relationships.

So, I'm done, but what does this mean going forward to potential future investors.  As I said in the statement I prepared in response to questions I received about the NCAA report:
I would strongly warn current and future donors against contributing to the University until some significant changes are made at the top of the University and in the Athletic Department ... including a firm commitment by the leadership actually to observe the principles of their own Donor's Bill of Rights. ... In all of the years that I have contributed to higher education, which now spans four decades, I have never before regretted the financial and other support I have given to an institution, but today I do. "
In short, want to expose yourself to having your name dragged through the mud and being associated with a program going badly wrong without the right to comment on it, give to UAA.  Want to invest someplace which actually values its donors and doesn't make up new ("Institution imposed") rules as it goes along, look elsewhere.
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