April 6, 2010
Public officials and the media have raised reasonable questions about the University of Oregon’s separation agreement with Mike Bellotti. I want to clarify the circumstances surrounding Mike Bellotti’s resignation and negotiated buy-out.
When I arrived at the University of Oregon nine months ago, I knew we had an excellent and committed faculty, outstanding alumni and supporter base, and an unsustainable funding model for the academic side of the institution. I was pleased that the university had established a self-sustaining athletic program knowing how hard it is to do this.
As I got to know the state of Oregon, its leadership, and the university, I realized how much work is ahead to achieve sustainable funding for both the academic and athletic programs. Mike Bellotti and I have discussed these challenges. He is a great Oregonian, and a very good man who has served the university with integrity.
It was clear, however, that while he had tremendous success coaching he did not find as much satisfaction being athletic director. It was also clear to me, despite sound fiscal management and the highest football season revenue production ever, that the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics would increasingly need an individual with experience handling the financial and business aspects of a complex program in order to fulfill its obligation to be a self-sustaining program, a point of significant importance to me and the University of Oregon.
Mike told me about the opportunity to take a position with ESPN, and the possibility of a broadcasting career and returning to college football. I told him I believed it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a very short window. We discussed the future of the athletic program and in that context he told me about the conversations he had with former administrators about the athletics director position. I cannot speak to Mike’s transition from coach to athletic director because I wasn’t here, but I can say that he was promised greater financial guarantees than I had been made aware of until that moment. I determined it was in the university’s best interest to expedite the transition and negotiations commenced to develop a separation agreement.
The agreement, which has been publicly shared, was necessary since there was no written contract in place, and because there were different understandings between the parties regarding the institution’s financial obligations. Furthermore, because I had made the decision that the university needed new leadership within the athletic department, an agreement was necessary to affect this transition. I signed the agreement, based on the advice of counsel, to protect the university’s interests, to ensure a smooth transition within the athletic department and to fulfill, as best I could determine, the institution’s financial obligations to Mike.
$2.3 million is a lot of money. But it is a fair settlement based on the commitments made to Mike before I got here. While no one can dispute that Mike Bellotti is an outstanding football coach, a committed employee, and a tremendous leader, serving as athletic director requires a unique set of skills. I believe Mike Bellotti has been unfairly portrayed in the media and I want to make it clear that I encouraged his move to ESPN and I made the decision to secure new leadership for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. I take full responsibility for the ambiguity around Mike’s departure.
Questions have been raised about the fund source for this separation agreement and how it affects other athletic department priorities like ensuring a self-supporting athletics program, repayment of bonds for the arena, and hiring of a men’s basketball coach. Those obligations will not be affected by this payment. No student tuition or state funds are or will be used to pay for this separation agreement. It is clear that the institution did not follow acceptable business practices regarding employee contracts. I have made it clear to all appropriate staff at the university that this type of situation is unacceptable under my administration and it shall not be repeated. I welcome enthusiastically the Oregon University System’s internal audit regarding this issue.
I am acutely aware of the university’s responsibilities as a public institution and am committed to ensuring that the University of Oregon meets its obligations to Oregonians. A successful athletic program does not and should not compromise that academic goal — success in one need not come at the expense of the other.
Oregonians have tremendous reason to be proud of the University of Oregon, its brilliant academic programs, and its athletic successes. The quality of both academics and athletics has grown dramatically in recent years because of the university’s success in securing non-state resources. The university is committed to achieving financial stability and improving the quality of the institution Oregonians deserve. Our business practices will reflect this commitment. This is a moment of opportunity and promise, not a symptom of distress. Oregonians can be assured that these issues have my full attention.