LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Papa John’s International founder and CEO John Schnatter said Wednesday the future of the University of Louisville depends on “fix(ing)” the university‘s athletics association, and he appeared to criticize longtime U of L athletics director Tom Jurich for being unaccountable to the university’s leaders.

While not mentioning Jurich by name, Schnatter complained that “the leadership” of the athletics department is “invisible” to the university’s governing board.

Schnatter, a major U of L donor and athletics booster, made the comments Wednesday during a meeting of U of L’s board of trustees, of which he is a member.

“The athletics thing scares me … Until you fix athletics, you cannot fix this university,” Schnatter said.

Schnatter did not specify the problems he sees with the athletics department, though at one point he seemed to imply it was an overspending issue.

The athletics association is also in the midst of dealing with the consequences of a prostitution scandal that rocked the men’s basketball program in 2015.

Approached by a reporter, Schnatter declined to elaborate on the problems he believes needs fixing.

“Just read the paper,” Schnatter said.

Schnatter denied picking a fight with Jurich, a powerful figure who has been on the job at U of L since 1997.

Kenny Klein, a spokesman for the athletics association, said Jurich “does not have any comment” in response to Schnatter’s remarks.

“Tom’s leadership of our athletics program is well-documented, has been highly successful, fiscally sound, transparent, and speaks for itself,” Klein said in an email. “The U of L Athletics Association Board of Directors has governed our department and been involved in all decisions.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Schnatter referenced a private conversation in which U of L interim President Greg Postel said the “leadership” of the athletics association is not accountable to the trustees.

“I said, ‘Get ‘em in front of this trustees (board) so we can know what they are doing,” Schnatter said. “And he (Postel) goes, ‘Good luck. He’s invisible.’”

In an interview following the meeting, Postel said Schnatter did not accurately characterize the conversation.

"What we had talked about was simply the fact that, historically, the director of athletics and folks from the administration of athletics have never participated in the activities of the U of L board of (trustees)," Postel said. "That is just historically something that has never happened before."

Postel added that it would not be difficult to get Jurich -- who reports to the separate board of the athletics association -- to appear before the board of trustees.

"I meet with Tom Jurich on a regular basis ... he is easy to get a hold of," Postel said.

Postel, in an unrelated presentation during the meeting, said the university has an urgent need for operating cash in case of an emergency.

Schnatter interjected, linking the university’s cash needs to the ongoing expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where the Cards play football.

“We’re doing this by the skin of our teeth. We’re going to put $60 million in a stadium – by the way, it’s my stadium,” Schnatter said, laughing. “And we’re $5 million over budget and we’ve got 10 days cash on hand. That’s crazy.”

Postel then said the university actually has 35 days of cash on hand, which he said is still far from sufficient.

Klein said despite Schnatter's comment, the stadium expansion is "on budget."

Schnatter, whose company bought the right to name U of L’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, was appointed to the trustee board in January by Gov. Matt Bevin.

He has taken on a big leadership role at the university since then, joining the boards of the athletics association and the university’s troubled foundation – while also co-chairing the search for the university’s next president.

Louisville businessman Bill Stone, a former trustee and a member of the athletics association board, said Wednesday that he was baffled by Schnatter's comment that the athletics association needs to be fixed.

"I have a lot of respect for John, but I have no idea what he was referring to," Stone said.

Stone, who has served several terms on the athletics board over the years, said the association is well-run and that Jurich is transparent with decisions.

He added that Jurich would be readily available to the trustee board upon request.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook.

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