DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski: Tubby Smith's $2.5 million buyout is "obscene"

Smith's $2.5 million buyout comes amid the U's request for as much as $250 million in additional funding from the Legislature.
Smith's $2.5 million buyout comes amid the U's request for as much as $250 million in additional funding from the Legislature.
Rep. Gene Pelowski

Rep. Gene Pelowski, D-Winona, is chair of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, so it's not like he's just another voice in the wilderness when it comes to the University of Minnesota.

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And at a time when the U of M is under fire for overspending, Pelowski thinks the $2.5 million buyout given to Tubby Smith is "obscene."

"I don't think the university has grasped the public reaction to all of this, that it hurts the university not just as an athletic endeavor, it hurts its reputation period," Pelowski told the Rochester Post Bulletin.

During an MPR interview, Pelowski said the Smith buyout could lessen the U's chances of receiving bonding bucks for new athletic facilities. After all, if officials have $2.5 million lying around to pay a coach not to coach, they must have money to cover some construction costs.

"When we have the bonding hearings, if there is anything relating to athletics, this will be a topic of conversation," Pelowski told MPR. "Because you're now talking millions of dollars that are apparently available that could just as well go into buildings as paying someone not to do anything -- or paying someone to do an incredibly mediocre job."

Adding to Pelowski's frustration is the fact that the Smith buyout isn't the U's first rodeo when it comes to paying coaches not to coach.

As the Star Tribune reports, since 2006, the U has paid more than $4 million to ex-coaches Dan Monson, Tim Brewster, and Glen Mason. Of course, those buyouts came before new athletics director Norwood Teague took charge last year (ex-AD Joel Maturi also increased the size of Smith's buyout from $1.5 million to $2.5 million last summer).

Also concerning is that the U's athletics department hasn't made money in recent years: According to the Minnesota Daily, the U gave its athletics department a $2.3 million subsidy during the 2011 fiscal year. That, combined with the fact that multimillion-dollar expenditures on football and basketball coaches haven't exactly paid on-field or on-court dividends, has Pelowski questioning the U's philosophical approach to its high-profile sports teams.

"Look at the product. You're paying more and more, and certainly the product doesn't show the value of the money you have in it. So I think now you've approached the point of diminishing returns," he told MPR. "You're paying far too much and getting far too little. The public now knows it. I think it's time for the U to realize it, and for athletics to realize it, too. This is amateur athletics. It's a game."

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