This afternoon, UO President Richard Lariviere spoke out on the controverisal $2.3 million dollar buy-out. The University released this press release and Lariviere and Mike Bellotti held a press conference to answer the questions of reporters.
What Lariviere made strikingly clear is that Mike Bellotti was essentially pushed out as Athletic Director. While Belloti had done an admirable job as Athletic Director for Oregon, Lariviere felt that Bellotti was not a long term solution. From the statement:
It was clear, however, that while he had tremendous success coaching he did not find as much satisfaction being athletic director. It was also clear to me, despite sound fiscal management and the highest football season revenue production ever, that the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics would increasingly need an individual with experience handling the financial and business aspects of a complex program in order to fulfill its obligation to be a self-sustaining program, a point of significant importance to me and the University of Oregon.
Lariviere's opinion does not entirely come from left field. It was widely rumored for some time that Bellotti was not happy with the Athletic Director job. He admitted during the press conference that this was not his end-all job, but that he could help the University out in a time of transition. And Bellotti had been contacted by ESPN last fall while he had been doing announcing work with OSN. It was pretty obvious that Bellotti would not be in the AD position long-term.
However, I don't think many of us anticipated just how short Bellotti's stay at AD would be. Lariviere stated during the press conference that he had made his decision about the Athletic Director position before Bellotti had informed him of ESPN's official offer. When informed of the ESPN opportunity, Lariviere was quite clear with Bellotti what was going to happen, and "encouraged" him to take that position. And these circumstances led to the 2.3 million dollar negotiated buy-out of Bellotti, which was the amount Lariviere felt that Bellotti was owed on his verbal contract.
While the absence of a written contract is disconcerting, I'm pretty happy with how Lariviere responded to this situation. His press conference was refreshingly honest for an Athletic Department and institution that has been known for being tight lipped. I also don't have a problem with Bellotti's buy-out. He had promises made to him by a previous administration, and was asked to move on before he may have been entirely ready to.
This is obviously not an ideal situation in any way. Bellotti will be moving on after 20+ years at the school. This would be problematic on it's own, but was brought under a large amount of scrutiny as an explicit contract was not in place. The amount of the buy-out (exaggerated because a significant portion of the buy-out includes the last year of work) also brought scrutiny.
But in the end, both Oregon and Bellotti were going to be moving on, and Oregon made the first move. It's their duty to fulfill the obligations made to Bellotti. And because the split seems to be on as amicable of terms as possible, and the resignation was mutual, we don't have to go through with Bellotti what we went through with Ernie Kent.
I'm sure that Mike Bellotti will be a smashing success at ESPN, and the Athletic Department is in better shape than its ever has. In the end, this will be a move that will benefit both parties.