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Y. study targets athletic red ink

University also seeking a sports program based on LDS values

SHARE Y. study targets athletic red ink

PROVO — Brigham Young University's athletic department lost money four of the past six years and must pay back a university fund for loans to cover the shortfalls, according to a summary of a self-study conducted last summer.

The study was designed to help BYU find ways to balance the $27 million athletic budget while creating a distinctive sports program based on the values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An executive summary of the self-audit released Tuesday provides a broad outline of a number of areas targeted for improvement.

Dozens of recommendations are included, such as production of a structured interview guide that would help coaches explain the university's personal-conduct code — known as the Honor Code — to prospective recruits.

Another suggestion was the formation of a minority advisory group to help athletic department officials understand the needs of minority athletes.

The self-study's best-known recommendation was to consolidate the separate men's and women's athletic departments into one department. The decision to follow that advice cost longtime athletic directors Val Hale and Elaine Michaelis their jobs.

Since the firings in September, BYU Vice President Fred Skousen and a transitional team of four associate athletic directors have used the 91-page study as a guiding document while BYU conducts a search for a new athletic director.

"I think it's been very successful," said Peter Pilling, one of the current BYU athletic directors. "One of the things our transition team has been able to do is work on implementing the recommendations."

BYU posted the athletic director job on its Web site last month, and the opening closes on Saturday. The search committee will begin to interview candidates as early as next week.

The transition team has implemented some recommendations, such as hiring an additional athletic trainer to help the track teams and adding a staffer to the academic support office. Former Cougar running back Jamal Willis was hired.

The team also has done some dirty work, eliminating seven positions. One of the fired employees — Hale — says he supports the study, even though he hasn't seen it.

"The decision to consolidate is a very good decision," Hale said. "I recommended it. I know Elaine didn't want to see that, but I think it was necessary to get the department running the way it needed to. From what I've heard, the study is solid."

BYU hired Utah-based consulting firm Organizational Leadership Resource Inc., which conducted the study with an 11-member team from May to September. The self-study team conducted surveys of 13 groups, from fans to corporate partners.

It also studied practices at seven universities — Duke, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Texas, UCLA and Utah — in 15 areas, such as marketing and sports medicine.

The committee established a list of 16 values, many of them based on values of the LDS Church, which owns BYU. It then outlined "three pillars that distinguish BYU athletics from other athletic programs."

"As BYU athletics achieves its strategic vision of inspiring and developing scholar athletes into leaders, living faith-based values of morality, charity and honor, and winning on a conference and national level with world-class sportsmanship, it will stand as a role model in this new era of intercollegiate athletics."

The study repeatedly underlines a desire to have BYU's program stand out among collegiate athletic programs. Church and university leaders have said the mission of BYU and its athletic department is to serve as public-relations tools for the church — and a training ground for future church leaders.

Not coincidentally, the self-study was launched just months after an embarrassing incident in January 2004, when several BYU football players engaged in group sex at a party with a female track athlete.

The recommendations included better screening of potential recruits for Honor Code weaknesses — students agree not to smoke, drink, use drugs or engage in sex outside of marriage — and establishing the nation's best hosting services for opposing teams.

If the initiatives are successful, the study suggests a perception of excellence known as the "BYU Way" would be the result.

"It's not something we would have to profess or vocalize, but our actions would speak for themselves," Pilling said. "People would recognize we were different."

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the university wouldn't release any more information on athletic department debts, but sources have told the Deseret Morning News that the deficits produced in each of the four years were relatively small, in the $100,000 range down to narrowly missing breaking even.

"Two of the main themes of the study are revenue enhancement and fiscal responsibility," Pilling said. "If we're fat somewhere, we want to tighten our belts. At the same time, we think we have an upside in we can still achieve in maximizing our resources.

"Our goal within the next two years," he added, "is to pay down and pay off that cash deficit."

At the same time, the study urges the department to bring salaries for coaches into line with what other Mountain West Conference coaches earn and to cut down on the commercialization at LaVell Edwards Stadium and the Marriott Center.

The study raised the specter of reducing the number of sports from 21 if deficits continue.

"If BYU wants to participate at the level it is and with the number of sports it has, the area they have to do better is fund-raising," Hale said. "They need to generate about another $1 million a year."

Some of the recommendations are in place. For example, monthly meetings of all the coaches with the athletic department leadership team began in September.

Other recommendations won't be implemented at all while still others will be phased in over time. The Honor Code interview guide, for one, is only in the beginning stages. Meanwhile, a consulting firm has made a campus visit to begin a study of fund-raising improvements.

"The study gave us an opportunity to analyze our strengths, and we have strengths, and to work on the areas were there can be improvement," Pilling said. "There are a lot of opportunities at BYU and we want to be a better place."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com