UI administration, panel ask for careful reading of proposals

Friday, September 24th 2004, 8:19 pm
By: News On 6

BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ A University of Idaho advisory panel appointed by the school's president is suggesting that the college consider dropping out of NCAA Division I-A athletics to save money.

The 161-page report was issued earlier this week by the Vision and Resources Task Force, created by university President Tim White in May and charged with making broad suggestions about the long-term future of Idaho's primary higher learning institution.

The report makes some other surprising, potentially extreme recommendations, including a section that recommends that the University bring a lawsuit against the ``person or entities'' in its foundation who may have some have some liability stemming from the failed University Place real estate project in Boise.

However, White and other officials _ including the committee's own chairman _ urge caution before jumping to conclusions about what the school might change because of the report.

The 26-member committee was made up of faculty members, students and administrators.

Deep in the report _ on page 87 _ the committee suggests that the university closely monitor its success in Division I-A play and measure the athletic department's ability to sustain financial and division membership requirements.

The report suggests creating a new athletics committee, which would monitor sports program success and failures. It would also draw up plans for withdrawal from Division I-A if those requirements could not be met.

White said he doesn't think the committee is urging the university to drop a notch in athletics. The school has been Division I-A since bumping up from I-AA in 1995.

``We are committed as a university to be in I-A ... and it's irresponsible to raise the specter that we're not going to be committed to I-A,'' White said late Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

White came to the University of Idaho this year after eight years with Oregon State University.

``When I started there, athletics were at an all-time low. We were the doormat of the PAC-10,'' White said. Over time, though, the university sought donations to build a better program.

``We made investments and had incremental successes, and we turned that around,'' he said. ``That's the plan here, and we're on track to do that,'' he continued. ``Now, 10 years from now if we're not successful, we'll say, `OK, we tried and we didn't get the private money and it didn't work.'''

Monte Boisen, chairman of the Vision and Resources Task Force, said the committee didn't intend to undermine UI's athletic affiliation.

``The intent of that (athletics) section of the report is that, the hope is, we will be successful as a I-A football team,'' he said. ``But while we want to be successful, we also just want to be sensible about setting a point in time to re-evaluate.''

The report covers the surprising recommendation on the University Foundation on page 80. It suggests that, if the University doesn't want to bring a lawsuit against responsible parties, that it sever all ties with the foundation.

The $136 million, multi-building complex just east of downtown Boise was seen by many university advocates as critical to maintaining the school's clout against the rising influence of Boise State University.

But a report earlier this year concluded the university and its foundation may have violated some state laws or breached their ethical responsibilities to financial supporters by making those front-end financial commitments.

The foundation still has $25 million to pay back to the school and its primary trust.

But Boisen said the idea of bringing a lawsuit against members of the University Foundation is a last resort.

``It is a drastic measure that would be implemented if some other things didn't work,'' Boisen said. ``We have great friends in the foundation working for the benefit of the university. I certainly don't anticipate that that would happen.''

White said the entire report must be read as a starting point for discussion _ and even at that, not all of the ideas in it may rise to a discussion level.

``This is not a decision package. As (the report) gets more comment from the outside, it will not be a surprise that the focus of the recommendations will be changed quite a bit.''

White has asked for key members of the university's executive staff to analyze the report by Oct. 11. After that, another month of comment period from the public will follow.