The genesis of a sports booster’s $17.68 million stock donation to the University of Arizona originated from the simplest idea: UA president Ann Weaver Hart wanted to ensure athletic director Greg Byrne could not easily be wooed by the highest outside bidder.
Hart and the anonymous donor began working on the retention plan almost a year ago. Both sensed that the UA’s Big 3 — Byrne, basketball coach Sean Miller, football coach Rich Rodriguez — are in the prime of their career. At Arizona, now is the time.
Losing any or all of them could cripple the school’s ability to compete effectively in the ambitious Pac-12 and on a national stage.
The donor insisted on three commendable variables:
One, this would not make him famous. He would not, like Oregon benefactor Phil Knight, step in front of TV cameras to take a bow and vainly become one of those all-too-familiar powerbrokers visible on too many college campuses.
Two, the annual yield from his stock package, which is estimated to be about $4 million, would be absorbed by and distributed from the UA Foundation, and not necessarily the athletic department. That $4 million a year can be used at Hart’s discretion for the next eight years. Three, the $17.68 million would not be available to Byrne, Miller or Rodriguez until the 2021-22 school year. In a sense, it would be a remarkably good 401K, or retirement package for those men. I’m not saying that the Byrne-Miller-Rodriguez trio is the best the school has ever had. It would be difficult to surpass the excellence of AD Cedric Dempsey, basketball coach Lute Olson and football coach Dick Tomey from 1985 to 1994.
But in the Pac-12, it is likely the top three-man crew, or close enough.
Hart’s ability to raise what could be as much as $50 million from this project, an attempt to secure the school’s athletic future, should be viewed as progressive.It’s not the blatant money-grab Kentucky and Alabama exhibited last week when they combined to pay coaches John Calipari and Nick Saban a cumulative $107 million.