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One football booster's bid for access

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In Connecticut today, a staggering example of one booster's sway - or at least perceived sway - over a collegiate football program.

At the University of Connecticut, football booster Robert Burton has set tongues wagging with a recent letter to Jeff Hathaway, director of athletics. In the deliciously labeled "personal and confidential" letter to Hathaway - a public employee - Burton makes quite clear that the millions he donated to UConn over the year have strings attached.

(A refresher: Burton is a longtime donor to UConn athletics; his $3 million gift a few years ago funded a massive indoor football practice facility on the Storrs campus, a supposed necessity for a university pouring resources into a burgeoning football program.)

Well, it appears Burton didn't like the athletic director's recent hiring of a new football coach
The letter starts thus:

Dear Jeff:

When I called you on Monday, January 3rd, I made two things very clear to you, as the largest donor in the UConn football program. I told you that I wanted to be involved in the hiring process for the new coach. I also gave you my insight about who would be a good fit for the head coaching position as well as who would not. For someone who has given over $7,000,000 to the football program/university, I do not feel as though these requests were asking for too much.

Somewhere, a professor just developed a nervous tic.

Later in the letter, Burton demands his family's name removed from the building he funded, and he wants his $3 million back. He further pledges to no longer make various donations to the football program, buy advertising in the football programs, transfer scholarship donations from athletics to the business school, and even stop using UConn's business school for workforce training.

Instead, he's going to enlist the help of Syracuse's business school, he says.

(You can read the entire letter by clicking the attached link, below)

For good measure, he points out he also paid for pictures and other art to decorate football offices, as well as an audio system for the weight room.

All of this because he feels disrespected and left out of the loop.

At this point I ought to reinforce the fact that Burton is not on the UConn staff nor a paid search consultant.

But 7 million bucks ought to buy him some face time with the boss, right?

Apparently not, though it does raise questions about whether he was promised any sort of unusual access by athletics officials.

Burton's letter shines a light on how the sausage gets made within university athletic programs.

Universities rely on these donors far more than you might ever imagine. When head coaches criss-cross the country to visit recruits, they often do so on private jets provided by well-heeled boosters.

Speaking of Heels, a local example. When UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour was wooing Roy Williams in 2003 to become the Tar Heel basketball coach - the second time, not the time when he said 'no' - his close, tight-lipped inner circle included a natural gas executive from Fayetteville.

Paul Lawing, a longtime booster and Tar Heel fan, offered up his private jet to spirit Baddour to Kansas to collect Williams and bring him back to Chapel Hill.Lawing and a business partner had occasionally loaned their plane to UNC for recruiting trips and the like, and Baddour relied on that transportation for that search.

Lawing wasn't directly paid for the use of his planes, but received in-kind contribution points, similar to points garnered through cash donations to the Educational Foundation, UNC's private fundraising arm.

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About the blogger

Eric Ferreri covers higher education and general news.