Arizona’s athletic department employs 237 people, including 15 academic counselors, 23 in medical services and three in life skills, including a sports psychologist.
It employs four people in its compliance office, which is essentially the office for athletics eligibility.
But the UA does not employ anyone in risk management. Not anymore.
During Greg Byrne’s term as athletic director, he would deliver a get-to-know-you speech at the beginning of fall semester, at which he would reveal his personal cellphone number to the 500 athletes.
“Call me if you need help,” he would say.
That was the UA athletic department’s version of risk management. Call the boss if you get in trouble.
In my opinion, Byrne doesn’t have an insincere bone in his body. He truly attempted to memorize the names of all 500 student-athletes, year after year. I’ve been next to him at McKale Center when six or seven swimmers walked by and he called each by name.
He told me he didn’t consider applying to be commissioner of the West Coast Conference, or any conference, because he gets more enjoyment from engaging student-athletes, and you can’t do that at any conference office.
If I could describe Byrne’s seven years at Arizona, it would have nothing to do with hirings, firings, advancing to the Sweet 16 or wearing those god-awful red pants on Saturday nights at Arizona Stadium.
It would be that he wanted to do the right thing.
But in a college athletics department with a $90 million budget, 500 student-athletes and so many moving parts — one day your swimming coach blows up the program and takes a leave of absence during the height of recruiting season; another day, a basketball player is suspended for a divisive sexual misconduct case — getting the right things done becomes complicated.
For Byrne, a fall day in 2013 turned out to be one of the most complicated days of his career.
Sometime on Nov. 5, 2013, Arizona athletic director Byrne and track coach Fred Harvey met in Byrne’s office with assistant track coach Craig Carter.
According to documents obtained by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Byrne — following a script from university attorneys — asked Carter if he was romantically involved with one of the shot-putters on the track team. Carter, who had been on the staff for seven years, denied it.
That was the last time Byrne talked to Carter about it.
As was true with basketball player Elliott Pitts’ sexual misconduct case, UA attorneys instructed Byrne to withdraw from any type of investigation. The school’s Office of Institutional Equity, which is responsible for investigating Title IX issues, took total command.
Byrne was powerless, and in a bigger picture, that’s a good thing. By ceding the athletic department too much power, football scandals at Penn State and Baylor became shameful national embarrassments.
With Byrne out of the picture, according to ESPN, the OIE emailed the alleged victim twice that month. Are you OK? Do you need help? She did not reply.
ESPN reported there was no more contact, neither by the OIE nor Byrne.
Eighteen months later, May 2015, Carter was arrested on charges of domestic violence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, threats of intimidation with injury and damage. He was also charged with stalking, with fear of physical injury and death.
The shot-putter has since filed a civil suit against Byrne, Harvey, the UA and the Board of Regents. A criminal case against Carter is scheduled to begin Aug. 1. The Star’s policy is not to name alleged victims of sexual assault and domestic violence; ESPN used her name and interviewed her at length.
One of the most damaging components of this case is why the UA was not more aggressive in pursuing the truth and protecting the shot-putter.
Now, 3½ years removed, it is obvious they went by the book, following the instructions of the OIE and the attorneys, step by step by step, exactly as they had during the Elliott Pitts sexual misconduct case.
Discovering the truth has been excruciatingly slow, and many involved will not comment because of the pending litigation. Because of that delay, ESPN did a pretty thorough job beating up Byrne in Sunday’s broadcast, although I find it hard to believe that Byrne would risk his career in any fashion to protect an assistant track coach.
I talked to Byrne on Sunday, and he chose not to comment. It was clear that he was shaken by the “Outside the Lines” report. He can’t be human if he’s not worried that someone with power in the University of Alabama system — someone with the influence to put together a buyout package — will now seek to part company with him.
Ultimately, Byrne did what he was told and moved on, even if it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. When hired at Alabama, he informed them of the ongoing case against Carter and of the athletic department’s involvement (or lack thereof).
It’s easy now to say Byrne should have interfered in the case, which seems sure to become awkward and damaging front-page news this summer.
Instead, he followed orders. Either way, justice has not been served.
A UA website — titleIX.arizona.edu — directs students and employees on how to report misconduct. The school can do more. One thing we’ve learned during the Pitts and Carter cases is that the athletic department isn’t and shouldn’t be the final line of authority.
When an athletic department gets too much power — as in the Joe Paterno case at Penn State, and as in the sordid football mess at Baylor — everybody loses.
Sadly, everyone loses in this case, too.