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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Is anyone in charge of UConn athletic finances?

    We couldn’t make it to the second paragraph in any story related to UConn’s burgeoning athletic budget deficit Tuesday without the caveat about how it worsened because of money owed to Kevin Ollie.

    Loosely translated, the coterie at State U wants to break into a group chorus of “Razzle Dazzle” from the movie “Chicago,” when Richard Gere, playing an attorney, sings about how to bamboozle a jury.

    “Give 'em the old razzle dazzle

    (Razzle dazzle 'em)

    Back since the days of old Methuselah

    Everyone loves the big bamboozler

    (Give 'em the old three-ring circus)

    (Stun and stagger 'em)

    When you're in trouble, go into your dance

    Though you are stiffer than a girder

    They'll let you get away (with murder)

    Razzle dazzle 'em and you've got a romance.”

    Just go to Twitter and follow the way athletic director David Benedict interacts with all the sycophants. They’ve been razzle dazzled. Budget schmudget. Nothing but rainbows and lollipops.

    I’d like to think that critical thinkers — their shrinking numbers notwithstanding — know a fraud when they see one.

    Straight up: Yes, the $13.4 million payment to Ollie certainly affected the now $53 million deficit. But there is also no evidence whatsoever that UConn has a plan in place or made any strides to chop a deficit that was nearly $40 million before Ollie’s payout. Money owed to Ollie, as it relates to the overall budget, is window dressing that, as they say on Law & Order, has prejudicial effect outweighing its probative value.

    Ollie had better lawyers and got his money. UConn either didn’t pay attention to sufficient legal advice or didn’t get any in the first place. And now we move on.

    Nowhere in the financial statement submitted to the NCAA by the school and made public Tuesday is there a hint of evidence reflecting that the athletic department or university has a plan in place to reduce the deficit. Or the plan isn’t working. What was $42.3 million in 2019 became $43.5 million in 2020 and ballooned to $47.2 million in 2021.

    And this is with $23.6 million given to athletics philanthropically, the third highest in the department's history, the school said. Just spitballing here, but with financial strings tightening everywhere, what if giving was off a bit for 2022? Will the overall budget deficit grow greater than the Gross National Product of Argentina?

    Remember: This report reflects the fiscal year beginning in July 2021 and ending in June 2022. Common sense suggests operating expenses were greater in 2022 because of more money given to football. The report UConn submitted reflects the 2021 football season, during which Randy Edsall left. There is no mention here of everything else they presumptively gave Jim Mora.

    Hence, these questions:

    What was the football operating budget after July 1, 2022?

    What did it allocate?

    Was there an increase?

    Did the school, which did not sell many tickets, lose money going to the recent bowl game?

    Did the athletic department save money anywhere?

    Is there a plan in place?

    How much longer is this sustainable?

    Sorry. But they’re all legitimate questions.

    “At a time when budgets of 'Power 5' conference members have increased substantially and in some cases are nearing $200M, UConn athletics continues to find ways to remain competitive nationally with far less,” the school said in a statement.

    Nice speech. But does this presuppose that “remaining competitive nationally” comes with a price that will forever increase?

    Is Gov. Ned Lamont interested in this at all? He seems to be quite the UConn cheerleader now. But at some point, he’s got to start, you know, being the governor. And while a nominal budget deficit is certainly palatable weighed against the perpetual excitement of a full house at the XL Center, we note the word “nominal.”

    This is exorbitant.

    And the man in charge of the department appears to spend more time on Twitter than crunching numbers.

    I’d like to know whether a plan is actually in place. So would members of the faculty senate, who are plenty annoyed that UConn’s “plan in place” appears to be ignore it and hope it goes away.

    My guess is that Jim Mora and Dan Hurley will continue to ask for more, not less, to “remain competitive nationally.” Where is that money coming from?

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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