Check UConn booster's letter for underbelly of college sports

by | Columnist

I think we owe Bob Burton a debt of gratitude for removing one more peg from which the naive rest their romantic notions about college athletics.

Burton is the heavy-hitting donor to University of Connecticut athletics who switched the "is" to "was" and his allegiance from UConn to Syracuse, all after the school hired Paul Pasqualoni to replace Randy Edsall as head football coach.

Paul Pasqualoni's hiring at UConn is pushing a donor to the former Syracuse coach's old school. (AP)  
Paul Pasqualoni's hiring at UConn is pushing a donor to the former Syracuse coach's old school. (AP)  
The Day in New London, Conn., reported that Burton expressed enough dismay over the hiring of Pasqualoni, who coached his son at Syracuse, that he demanded the return of $3 million he has already given the university. He also wants his family name pulled off the campus football complex.

Now that's some serious dismay.

Burton wrote a letter to athletic director Jeff Hathaway explaining his unhappiness over his management style in general, and Pasqualoni's hiring specifically. Burton's son played for Pasqualoni a decade ago, and Burton and Pasqualoni did not, how should we put it, mesh philosophically.

But let's let the letter Burton sent to Hathaway last week and received by the Day do the talking.

"The primary reason Randy [Edsall] took another job is because he couldn't work with you," Burton wrote to Hathaway. "You are not qualified to be a Division I AD and I would have fired you a long time ago. You do not have the skills to manage and cultivate new donors."

Or at least one old one, it seems.

It goes on to outline all the other steps Burton will take to punish Hathaway for not "keeping him in the loop," including no longer buying a luxury suite, moving the rest of the family's scholarship money to the business school and using Syracuse as its new college base to train new managers for Burton's printing business.

That, boys and girls, is spite on the muscle. And though Burton's note is a fairly conspicuous slap and a naked power play at a time when college funding is getting squeezed on all sides, it is pretty standard in the world of college sports, in which "He who pays, says."

Thus, we ought to be grateful that Burton's letter found its way to Mike DiMauro of the Day, so that those of you who still believe in the essential goodness of top-flight college athletics can understand that the difference between college athletics and loan sharking is that loan sharks are more willing to negotiate.

Connecticut football
Related links

There aren't any other ways to explain this, and many folks long ago came to grips with the idea of wallet tyranny as the main motivator for most athletic directors. Altruists can always fall in love with a Division III school; pragmatists go the FCS route. Pure, overt carnivores work Division I.

Bob Burton comes from Option C. He is voting his stock with both eyes and a nose toward seeing Hathaway fired (Pasqualoni, we suspect, is already off his radar), and his ability to change allegiances from one Big East school to another is only an intriguing twist on an old story, one that doesn't normally go so deliciously public.

That Hathaway hired Pasqualoni is an indication that Burton's money isn't worth the headache to Hathaway any longer. At least that's how it seems, since one doesn't normally cross a big donor without having lots of other donors at the ready to make up the difference.

Or maybe Hathaway's just a kamikaze pilot with a corner office. The army of reporters who cover UConn are better positioned to ferret that out.

But as a primer for how power is exercised on the college level for those who don't already have it down, this will do nicely. Bob Burton loves Syracuse. A week ago, he loved UConn. If Jerry Seinfeld said that being a sports fan means rooting for laundry, here is an example of what happens when the clothes don't fit any more.

Look at it this way. This just means that Syracuse coach Doug Marrone has a new BFF. Whether he wants one or not.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.


Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular Shop

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Under Armour 2014 On-Field Football Sideline Tech Performance T-Shirt

2014 Notre Dame Under Armour Gear
Get yours today
Shop Now