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INVESTING IN SUCCESS.

Byline: Curtis Anderson The Register-Guard

Two years ago, the track and field program at the University of Oregon reached a crossroads.

With community and alumni support eroding, the UO athletics department negotiated a contract settlement with head coach Martin Smith, who announced his resignation on the eve of the 2005 outdoor season.

After six turbulent years, it was time for a new beginning.

But, by hiring Vin Lananna as director of track and field in July 2005, Oregon did far more than simply entrust its most storied program to one of the nation's most prominent coaches.

Since Lananna's arrival, the UO administration has dramatically increased its financial investment in the combined men's and women's track and field and cross country programs.

In 2003-04, Smith's last full year as head coach, the total operating budget for the UO track and field and cross country programs was $1,625,000, which ranked third among public institutions in the Pac-10.

This year's projected UO budget for those sports totals $2,613,000, highest in the conference for state-run schools - UCLA is second at $1,987,369 - and represents an increase of $988,000 over the past three fiscal years.

It's the largest amount spent by the UO on a nonrevenue sport - those sports that annually operate at a deficit - with the next-highest being women's basketball at about $1.7 million per year.

`It was by design,' said Bill Moos, Oregon's former director of athletics, who courted and hired Lananna. `It was an investment we felt would benefit both the university and the sport of track and field.

`Personally, I felt we were at a juncture that either we were going to return to the heights of success that we had enjoyed in our rich tradition of track and field, or we were going to slide back and maybe lose that opportunity forever.'

But the "investment" puts more pressure on Oregon's only two revenue-producing sports, football and men's basketball, and on Oregon's fundraising efforts for athletics, and it challenges Oregon to translate renewed interest in the resurgent sport under Lananna into increased financial support for it.

Projected revenues from the combined track and field and cross country programs for the current fiscal year, barring unbudgeted donations, will be less than $100,000.

`There were a couple of reasons we went in that direction,' UO President Dave Frohnmayer said.

`One is that the tradition and the community engagement in the sport is so deep, and so long, and so replete with fame, records and memories, that it's not something you want to lose from your grasp. ... You ignore your past at your peril when you have something that great.

`A second reason is when you're already good at something, when you're that close to national greatness, it's both natural and appropriate to invest more to get an even higher level of performance. It's putting good money after good.'

Third-highest-paid UO coach

With a guaranteed annual salary of $400,000, plus an incentives package potentially worth as much as $200,000, Vin Lananna is the third-highest-paid coach at Oregon, after football coach Mike Bellotti and men's basketball coach Ernie Kent.

According to Lananna's contract - provided by the university to The Register-Guard, along with budgetary information for track and field, after a public records request - Lananna's base salary for 2006-07 is $150,000, with a supplement of $150,000 and an additional $100,000 through the school's agreement with the Oregon Sports Network.

The incentives are tied to the performance of the UO men's and women's teams in the Pac-10 and NCAA championships in three sports - cross country, indoor track and outdoor track - plus student-athlete graduation rates, annual ticket sales and the hosting of major events at Hayward Field.

There also is a deferred compensation agreement of $200,000 per year if Lananna, who also holds the title of associate athletic director, stays at the University of Oregon for five years, according to Tom Larson, UO associate AD and chief financial officer.

(The Register-Guard requested a copy of that deferred compensation agreement from the UO counsel in writing, on Feb. 9, and verbally on April 18 and again Monday; it has not yet been provided.)

In Smith's final year as UO head coach, he earned a guaranteed salary of $140,000.

The current track and field budget lists seven assistants at a total annual salary of $484,268, including assistant AD Michael Reilly ($107,000 per year), whose position was an addition to the program by Lananna two years ago. That compares with salary expenses of $293,000 for six assistants under Smith three years ago.

Larson said other budget increases derive from rising costs in student aid and other payroll expenses (OPE), most notably medical and retirement benefits.

Due to increased costs in tuition and housing, student aid expenditures jumped from $530,000 to $843,000 over the past four years. The OPE figures rose from about $147,000 to $285,000 during the same time span.

Season ticket sales and gate receipts for UO track and field have more than doubled since Lananna was hired - from $32,850 in 2005 to $76,337 in 2006 - and record-setting crowds, like the 5,699 who showed up for the Oregon Preview last March, are becoming routine.

Unless major endowments or other gifts can be generated for the program, expenditures will always outstrip revenues, but Larson said the deficit is somewhat mitigated by the `economic multipliers' of a sport with special historic status at Oregon.

`Track and field clearly has a lot of multipliers beyond ticket sales,' Larson said. `In reality, when you look at the other sports, other than football and men's basketball, none of them make money.

`You can take any other two or three sports (at Oregon), add them together, and you might get the same financial picture (as track and field), but do they generate the same goodwill, the national reputation, as many sponsorships and partnerships? A lot of that income can be attributed to track and field.

`Nobody knows about those other sports at Oregon, but they do know about track and field. When people visit from all over the world, they want to know `where's Hayward Field?' and `where's Pre's Trail?' '

Investing in the sport

Can the University of Oregon sustain its financial investment in track and field?

The increase of nearly $1 million in the program's budget over the past three years certainly caught the attention of Pat Kilkenny, who was hired to replace Moos as the UO's director of athletics in February.

`It's a lot of money,' said Kilkenny, who admits to being `a bit of a track fan,' one who used to watch Steve Prefontaine run at Hayward Field while an Oregon student in the early 1970s.

`There is no doubt we can justify a greater investment in track and field given our proud heritage, but we still have to figure out how to monetize it. ... It's something that I will have patience with, for sure, but track and field is definitely a subject that we will have high-level discussions on over the next several months.'

Kilkenny stressed that Oregon is absolutely `committed' to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, in particular to the private fundraising component of nearly $8 million that will be used to renovate Hayward Field this summer.

Like others, he wasn't sure how to quantify the `value' of hosting the Trials.

`Track and field is a very special sport,' Kilkenny said. `There's not one person in this place that doesn't appreciate what has been done historically, and the amazing gifts we have received, but in terms of bridging that financial gap, and how to value all of that, seriously, I don't have a clue, other than I know it's really valuable.'

Kilkenny said the university `could do a better job,' in seeking out endowments for coaches and student-athletes, and when the subject is track and field, the conversation usually turns to Phil Knight, co-founder and former CEO of the Beaverton-based Nike, which is the chief sponsor of the Trials.

Although Knight, Oregon's most prominent donor for athletics, was unavailable for comment, he and other former Duck runners at Nike are known to be passionate supporters of a vibrant track and field program at the University of Oregon - and were not pleased with the direction of the program under Smith.

In public perception, certainly, the Ducks are now providing the kind of program that Oregon's most successful track and field alums, including Knight, can support.

`I have not discussed the subject with Phil,' Kilkenny said. `Other than talking about the progress the team is making and his high regard for Vin and his staff. ... I'm always reluctant to talk about a very good friend, Phil Knight, as the savior on every front.'

Lananna said he has no concerns about Oregon's commitment to track and field given the recent change of command in the athletic department.

`I'm confident that Pat Kilkenny, who's a passionate Duck, understands the role that this program can play in the greater university mission,' Lananna said.

`Oregon became a pioneer in track and field long before I became involved in the sport. It supported the sport when other communities chose not to, and it continues to set the pulse in this country.

`That support can't be captured by financial figures only. It resides with the people in this community, the rich tradition of alumni, and the athletes and spectators from around the world that have created the heritage of Hayward Field.'

New era is under way

The Lananna era is just starting at Oregon.

In his short tenure, Lananna breathed new life into Eugene's ultimately successful bid to host the Trials; brought in highly regarded coach Frank Gagliano to mentor the Oregon Track Club Elite, a new post-collegiate group of middle distance and distance runners; and orchestrated back-to-back nationally ranked men's and women's recruiting classes.

Lananna brought the Road to Eugene '08 high-performance track meet to Hayward Field; staged a major reunion of former UO track and field athletes; led the Duck men to their first sweep of the Pac-10 and West Regional cross country meets since 1989; and guided the UO women to their highest score at the Pac-10 championships since 1996.

`Vin hit the ground running, and his accomplishments are impressive,' Moos said. `At the same time, I think this is just the beginning. If he can continue his success, there's going to be a lot of good times and wonderful memories for Oregon track and field.'

To date, Lananna's most acclaimed accomplishment, beyond securing the Olympic Trials, has been his ability to reach out to the many `stakeholders' in the UO program.

It is that shared sense of community involvement which has many supporters, including Frohnmayer, optimistic about the sport's future.

`I know I'm supposed to be a rational person, but track and field just feels different (under Lananna),' Frohnmayer said.

Lananna said he never would have agreed to come to Oregon simply to be a track and field coach.

He said he saw an opportunity to take the idea of Track Town, USA, and build and invest in that idea to create a vital and thriving brand, one that can produce a litany of institutional legacies beyond wins and losses.

He invokes the history of Oregon's most famous coach, the late Bill Bowerman, who founded Nike with Knight.

`If you make Hayward Field a mecca, create a post-collegiate program and build the Oregon track program up, you can do some really big things,' he said. `Just like Bowerman took a pair of light running shoes and turned it into the most successful global marketing company in the world. It all comes from having something special.

`I think the Olympic Trials are one small piece of it, something that strengthens the brand. It will be a catalyst, something that people can get their hands around, but I don't think of the Trials as the linchpin, I think of Track Town, USA as the linchpin.'

Frohnmayer, Kilkenny and others are hopeful that among the many benefits to be derived from hosting the Trials, and truly earning the unique status as `Track Town, USA,' will be a corresponding rise in donations and endowments to help fund track and field at Oregon.

`This is not something that the university can or should do alone,' Frohnmayer said. `I would hope the community would step up big-time.

"This is something, to an unusual degree, that engages the entire community; they can participate in these events until their very senior years.

`To look back to Bill Bowerman, and the way he got the whole community involved, quite literally, in public health with jogging and fitness. That needs to happen again anyway. The university may be its heart, but it can't be its soul or banker.'

2003-04

Head Coach: Martin Smith

Annual salary: $140,000 (Base: $100,000;

Supplement: $40,000)

Assistant Coaches: $293,000

Other Payroll Expenses: $147,000

Coaches Budget: $450,000

Student Aid: $530,000

Guarantees/Event Expenses: $65,000

TOTAL OPERATING BUDGET: $1,625,000

2006-07

Head coach: Vin Lananna

Annual salary: $400,000 (Base: $150,000;

Supplement: $150,000; Oregon Sports Network: $100,000)

Incentives: $100,000 (up to $200,000)

Assistant Coaches: $484,268

Other Payroll Expenses: $285,732

Student Aid: $843,000

Coaches Budget: $450,000

Guarantees/Event Expenses: $50,000

TOTAL OPERATING BUDGET: $2,613,000

Source: University of Oregon

OREGON TRACK AND FIELD

2003-04

Head Coach: Martin Smith

Annual salary: $140,000 (Base: $100,000;

Supplement: $40,000)

Assistant Coaches: $293,000

Other Payroll Expenses: $147,000

Coaches Budget: $450,000

Student Aid: $530,000

Guarantees/Event Expenses: $65,000

TOTAL OPERATING BUDGET: $1,625,000

2006-07

Head coach: Vin Lananna

Annual salary: $400,000 (Base: $150,000;

Supplement: $150,000; Oregon Sports Network: $100,000)

Incentives: $100,000 (up to $200,000)

Assistant Coaches: $484,268

Other Payroll Expenses: $285,732

Student Aid: $843,000

Coaches Budget: $450,000

Guarantees/Event Expenses: $50,000

TOTAL OPERATING BUDGET: $2,613,000
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Title Annotation:Sports; Oregon spends almost $1 million more on track and field than it did three years ago as it tries to regain its former glory
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:2345
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