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Coach search renews debate of athletics' impact on academics

12:07 AM, Dec 7, 2012   |    comments
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The University of Tennessee is back to square one in the search for the next head football coach. Thursday morning, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong officially turned down the job.

The offer to Strong was reportedly in the neighborhood of $4 million a year. Around the country, spending millions of dollars on a coach is becoming more common. It is also renewing a debate that's gone on for years on the UT campus: Does the university properly balance athletics and academics?

There are a wide range of opinions among professors at UT.

"Some people say the athletics department serves as the front porch for the university. It can draw a lot of attention and bring people who might not otherwise look at the University of Tennessee," said Dr. Jeffrey Fairbrother, Associate Professor and Interim Department Head of Kinesology, Recreation, and Sport Studies.

Dr. Fairbrother believes a strong athletics department improves the university as a whole.

His program and the athletics department work hand in hand. He said his students benefit when teams are winning games. The outcome of the current coaching search is something he's paying close attention to.

"A coach who can lead the football program to successful seasons and fill the stadium is going to be good for everyone," he said. "Whenever there's uncertainty in a large part of the university, it obviously spreads to other parts of the university."

The synergistic relationship between athletics and academics is not felt by all faculty members.

"There is no good evidence that having a top tier, very expensive coach will advance the academic mission of the University," said Dr. Louis Gross, Professor of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Mathematics and former Faculty Senate President.

For years, Dr. Gross has felt that there isn't a level playing field between athletics and academics.

"Athletics on this campus uses a phenomenal amount of resources, including the chancellor's time," he said.

Dr. Gross is upset at the recent announcement that athletics will no longer reinvest $18 million over three years toward academics. Instead the department announced they will use the money in the athletics department.

"In the past when this happened before-- when athletics could not pay their bills-- they loaned the university the money and it was payed back with interest," he said.

He believes the University should have consulted the faculty senate before making the decision.

"The faculty handbook says that we are supposed to be consulted about budgetary matters and this is definitely a budgetary matter," Dr. Gross said.


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