Thursday, December 21, 2006

70-100 Percent Wrong

Jason Kelly takes up the cause of the JC upgrades today, and as usual, did a bang-up job. He notes the lack of initiative taken by the ND administration in cases of athletic infrastructure needs, illustrated by things like the use of Fiesta Bowl funding (broken out in a previous blog entry here), taking them to task for the financial brinksmanship that seems to be the rule of the road on the east side of Juniper.

The details from Kelly's column are the best evidence yet that the University's 70-100 fundraising commitment is a poor strategy for operating an institute of higher learning in the 21st Century, particularly an institution as financially strong as Notre Dame. The school's athletic programs are cast in a poor light by the miserly attitudes of its administrative leaders, which can have both short- and long-term deleterious effects.

For those unfamiliar with the rule, Notre Dame's 70-100 funding philosophy says no physical plant project can begin until 70 percent of its budgeted cost is in hand via donation and 100 percent of its cost is pledged. For example, if Notre Dame is to spend $25 million on a Joyce Center basketball court upgrade, the project cannot begin until donors have pledged the full $25 million and Notre Dame has received $17.5 million of those promised funds. This means even if the project has $24.9 million promised to it, nothing is going to happen until that last $100,000 is accounted for.

For a school that boasts one of the largest endowments in the world and, thanks to wunderkind Scott Malpass, typically receives one of the best annual returns on investment for that endowment, their reluctance to engage in a much-needed improvement over such a relatively paltry sum is embarassing to me as an alumnus.

According to quotes from Kevin White in Kelly's column, Notre Dame is less than two million dollars short of the needed total for the Joyce Center upgrades. The same school that probably earned in the neighborhood of $300,000 this Spring in interest on its football ticket lottery proceeds is suddenly rooting through the pockets of its laundry in search of forgotten bills to make the JC project go. Never mind that the basketball teams pay for themselves and also return some money to the school coffers ... income that could go up significantly if the teams' performances improve. No risk allowed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dome, Jeff Jackson and his top-five hockey squad await the quality rink that was promised to the coach when he arrived in South Bend two years ago. (Don't hold your breath, Jeff; Mike Brey's been waiting seven and Muffet McGraw longer than that.) That project, according to reports, will run $15 million, and might have an effect on hoops as well, as there's talk of using the other half of the north dome for eagerly-awaited practice facilities for both the men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams. But they, too, must obey the 70-100 directive.

Faint heart never won fair lady. And weak commitment never won basketball games.

I was really jazzed up when the announcement for the JC project was made, and even more encouraged when it was made clear ND wasn't going to ignore the need for things on the practice side. But here we are, two months later, and we're still at Square One. I wasn't expecting the bleachers to be torn out by now, but I was expecting some kind of progress towards the end result. Instead, ND is wringing its hands over an endowment rounding error.

This isn't a community college here, kids. I don't want to read articles canonizing Malpass right next to whining about donation schedules. ND is supposed to be a leader, so let's get to it.

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