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Colorado recruiting, reorganization, & incentives

2004 May 31
by Skip Sauer

Most of the stories on the Colorado recruiting scandal and the institution’s response have been negative, including reports that 5 of the 8 members of the Independent Investigative Committee recommended that administrators be fired. Although the reports are sketchy, the fingers seem pointed more at Colorado AD Richard Tharp than Gary Barnett. The Colorado program had problems long before Barnett arrived on campus. The athletic department, it is alleged, ‘”evaded and ignored repeated directives to implement policy changes” and maintained a facade of “plausible deniability.”‘

It strikes me however that President Hoffman has responded appropriately. Gutting the program and restocking it with a new regime of coaches and administrators would merely answer the call of those howling for blood. It might quell the poison pens in the press, but it would not change the incentives or address the lack of institutional control that allowed the scandal to develop. Hoffman’s response addresses both incentives and institutional control.

Colorado’s restructuring of oversight is briefly described at the bottom of this article in the Rocky Mountain News. Among the changes:

- The athletic department will be integrated with other academic departments to reduce its autonomy. The athletic director will no longer report to the chancellor, but to the provost. The provost is the chief academic officer for the school and reports to the chancellor.

- The provost will develop and oversee athletic department policies guiding academic decisions, such as admissions, financial aid, eligibility, progress toward graduation and academic support – with the advice and counsel of the Academic Policy Board.

- The vice chancellor for administration will review and approve athletic contracts and sponsorships – a job now done by the athletic director.

- The athletic department’s compliance officer will take on new duties related to monitoring athletic compliance with campus policies and practices.

These are useful steps at ratcheting up the central administration’s control over the athletic department. What about incentives?

Being an economist, perhaps Ms. Hoffman understands a factor which many might miss. Barnett and Tharp are handsomely paid at Colorado, but are worth essentially zilch, zip, nada to any other campus in the country. If Ms. Hoffman is serious about reform, she wants people in the Athletic Department that have a significant stake in achieving it. Most coaches and ADs are alike – like anyone else, they are in large part creatures of the incentives they face. But Barnett & Tharp are now unique in one important sense: if they fail to do what Ms. Hoffman wants, they are toast, finished, unemployable. They have every incentive to deliver the goods to President Hoffman.

More information about the problem in general can be gleaned from the transcript of last March’s Congressional Hearing on the problem. Colorado’s response in the area of recruiting visits is certainly no whitewash, and is detailed there about 2/3 of the way down (search for ‘recruitment policy changes’).

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