SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Special Report

Texas Tech plans future after sanctions

The past and the future seem to be at odds here.

It has been about 30 months since the NCAA tossed its net over Texas Tech University, sanctioning the school for violations that involved more than 80 athletes in nine different sports. Athletic administrators figure the ordeal cost them about $1.5 million in legal bills, another $1 million in lost postseason revenue and about $500,000 in annual operating expenses required to restructure the department.

Yet all across campus, there have been signs of growth: holes in the ground and scaffolding and so much construction equipment that you begin to wonder if a Caterpillar has replaced the Red Raider as the school mascot.

A $62 million basketball arena opened in November 1999, and a $75 million renovation to the football stadium is scheduled to be completed in 2002. Tech is spending $5 million on new softball and tennis facilities and renovations for its baseball and track and field squads. It increased assistant football coaches' salaries. It even expanded the fund-raising staff of its booster club and hired a marketing director.

At first it seems incongruous, but there is logic behind Tech's expansion. It fits cozily into a campuswide, $500 million capital improvement project. And it sure beats the alternative: receding while the rest of the Big 12 is stacking bricks.

"It hasn't been easy," said Gerald Myers, who was promoted to athletic director at Texas Tech in 1997 in the midst of the NCAA probe. "We've been extremely fortunate in the facilities campaign. But we are in the red with our operating budget because we've elected to continue to grow, in spite of what we've gone through.

"We're looking at all of it as an investment."

Other programs have been punished more severely in a single sport. Southern Methodist University's football program was shut down. A bundle of schools have seen their football and basketball programs banned from postseason eligibility and stripped of scholarships.

Texas Tech's sanctions are unique not in their depth, but in their breadth. Because the bulk of the violations were related to academics, the NCAA found fault with most of the school's athletic programs: football, baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's golf, men's track, women's soccer, women's volleyball and men's tennis. Between 1990 and 1997, at least 76 Texas Tech athletes competed while academically ineligible.

As a result, the sanctions — some self-imposed, some tacked on by the NCAA — were equally far-reaching.

The football and basketball programs were rendered ineligible for postseason play for a year, meaning the school could not share in postseason revenue generated by other Big 12 members. That hit cost Tech about $1 million. The program also lost scholarships in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, men's golf and men's track.

Yet Tech managed to keep a loyal following not only from its boosters but from the university administration. The university overhauled the aspects of the department that dealt with compliance and academics, setting up mechanisms meant to detect the sort of missteps that landed the school in trouble with the NCAA.

Among the practices that landed Tech in trouble: academic fraud involving a professor who gave away grades; the improper use of correspondence courses from a Florida-based Bible college; and a general failure to track academic progress. The NCAA chided the school's compliance mechanisms, saying Tech "did not place a sufficiently high priority on compliance with NCAA rules."

Texas Tech now devotes about $500,000 a year from its athletic budget to compliance and academics, said Bobby Gleason, senior associate athletic director. As a result, athletic department leaders were able to secure funding for new facilities even though their programs appeared to be on shaky ground.

"We dealt with the NCAA first and put our house in order," Myers said. "Our donors, alumni, faculty and board of regents were convinced that we did get things under control. From then on, you saw support grow."

Tech also benefited because it was able to keep the bulk of its coaching staff in place through the turmoil. Frequently, a heavily sanctioned program must toss a head coach overboard to appease the NCAA. That wasn't the case for the Red Raiders because only a few violations involved improper conduct by coaches — and none directly involved a head coach.

With Spike Dykes still in place as coach, Tech's football team remained competitive in spite of the sanctions. By the time Dykes decided to retire last year, Myers was able to land a sought-after replacement, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mike Leach.

"Spike stayed on and kept the program at a pretty high level," said Myers, who was the basketball coach at Tech for 20 years before moving to the athletic administration in 1991. "So when Spike did retire, we were in our last year of probation and we had it all behind us. This became an attractive job again. It wouldn't have been a couple of years earlier."

For all its progress, Tech has a few links of chain still dragging behind it. The school's operating budget has run in the red for the last three years, falling short by more than $2 million. To carry it through that red ink, Tech transferred $1 million in revenue from football PSLs and redirected about $800,000 in licensing revenue.

The program can't continue to do that, Myers said.

"We've got to get the revenue up," he said. "We can't keep going like this at all."

The new facilities should help. So should an increased marketing budget meant to drive both attendance and donations. The school sees its booster group, the Red Raider Club, as an underperforming asset. It spent money reorganizing the club in the hope that it will generate more donations.

"We've made some investments on the operations side that we hope will pay dividends," Gleason said. "You either seem to move up or move down in college athletics. If you stand still while everyone else is moving forward, you end up way behind. We had to make investments to keep moving forward."

Revenue from athletic operations
School year Revenue
1995-96 $12.9 million
1996-97 $15 million
1997-98 $11.6 million
1998-99 $16.5 million
1999-2000 $18.1 million
2000-01 $20.2 million*
* Projected
Source: Texas Tech athletic department

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