CRAWFORD | Monday Motions: Addressing the Pimlico problem, U of - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Monday Motions: Addressing the Pimlico problem, U of L sports finances, unnamed sources

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Judges in Louisville set Monday morning as the motion hour in court, so let’s do no differently here in the court of public opinion to start this week.

Three motions for your consideration, your agreement and disagreement are equally welcome:

1). THAT THE PREAKNESS STAKES FIND A NEW HOME. You don’t have to leave Baltimore, but there’s not much way the race can stay at Pimlico much longer. The historic track is on its last legs. Look, it would be my preference that money be put into the 147-year-old racetrack to keep the race where it historically belongs, and in Baltimore where it belongs. But the former is not going to happen, which means that the latter is in jeopardy, despite a law on the books in Maryland preventing the race from leaving its largest city.

Some of the neighborhoods surrounding the track are downright dangerous. Not knowing this, in one of my early years covering the race I attempted to call a cab after sunset in the neighborhood of the track, after I’d finished writing my story on the Preakness, and no taxi would come. When I finally saw one and flagged it down, the driver told me it was because all too often, cab drivers were pulled from their cars and robbed in that vicinity.

These are some corners made famous in, “The Wire.” And, last week heading into the track the morning before the Preakness, Rick Bozich noted that he and WDRB’s Tom Lane followed their GPS into the wrong area, and had their rental sport utility vehicle hit by a heavy rock. Quick thinking behind the wheel by Tom “Leadfoot” Lane kept the incident from being worse.

There’s not much Pimlico can do about the surrounding area. Racetracks aren’t known for being in the posh parts of town. But something can be done about the condition of Pimlico, which suffered a plumbing failure in the grandstand a few years back, and is in need of major money -- $300 million, according to one study – to be brought up to date. Unless the sport itself wants to acknowledge the Triple Crown as its major collective holding and other tracks kick in to help the effort, the money isn’t coming. And if you know horse racing, you know that’s not going to happen.

Regardless, the Preakness needs to keep pace when it comes to facilities. It doesn’t require a Mansion, like Churchill Downs, but it does require working restrooms. The Preakness needs an exit strategy, whether its Laurel Race Course down the road or a new facility.

2). THAT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT PAY ITS OWN UTILITIES. I wrote a column about this a few weeks back, and I haven’t changed my opinion in the wake of learning that the university was kicking in upwards of $3 million annually to pay some utility costs at athletic facilities. But I do have a couple of clarifications.

I reported that the school spent $148,151 at the Carlton Hotel in New York in 2009, and on second reference included the line, “Literally, you had the university side making sure all its lights were turned off while the athletic side was staying at the Ritz.” To be clear, the Carlton Hotel in New York is not the Ritz-Carlton. It’s also, U of L spokesman Kenny Klein said, where the team stayed for the Big East Tournament. A portion of that, a little more than $17,000, was for a road game at St. John’s. Of the amount spent on the Big East Tournament, Klein said the league returned $125,000 to the school after its winning tournament run that season, while reimbursements for personal expenses made up the rest of the amount.

The department also says that another amount I mentioned -- $917,486 it paid to Marriott In Atlanta in 2013 -- wasn’t just for the men’s basketball trip to the Final Four but for the football team’s trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl (where the Louisville delegation also stayed at Marriott), as well as football stays at Marriott properties in Tampa and Philadelphia. The overall total was the gross payment made for all of those stays, not just as single event, as I reported.

When reporting on university finances, as well as university athletic finances, there’s always another layer. And this certainly gives context to some of the numbers I chose, and actually corrects my incomplete reporting on the second payment.

My main point, that the athletic department is making enough money to break free from university assistance in paying for things like utilities – except where the university is making direct use of its sports facilities for non-athletic department purposes – is not changed by those clarifications. The argument athletics would make is that the utility payments are more than returned to the university by the department through other revenue streams.

You can make your own judgment.

Somewhat related: ACC tax returns for 2015-16 released late last week show that Clemson, with its run to the College Football Playoff title game, led the way with nearly $28 million in league disbursements. Louisville was about middle of the pack, with $23.65 million (down from $24.036 million the year prior).

Think about this: U of L got $15.3 million after its NCAA championship/Sugar Bowl year in 2013 in the American Athletic Conference. In the eight years prior to that, U of L’s average conference disbursement was $5.45 million.

There’s a lot of criticism surrounding the financial climate at U of L, and much of it is valid. But Tom Jurich’s financial management of the athletic department, on the whole, has been pretty remarkable. A forensic audit of the university foundation due out in several weeks could show more inter-workings between university fundraising and athletics, but the fact should remain that as a percentage of the whole, U of L athletics is taking less and giving back more than it ever has. But, as always, we should wait for the final numbers before carving that into stone.

At any rate, here’s a look at the ACC payouts. The disparity between schools is largely determined by football bowl participation:

Clemson $27,929,524
Florida State $24,808,212
North Carolina $24,192,863
Duke $23,965,736
N.C. State $23,863,714
Virginia Tech $23,844,951
Louisville $23,656,217
Miami $23,656,217
Pittsburgh $23,604,756
Virginia $22,948,960
Boston College $22,793,793
Syracuse $22,773,326
Wake Forest $22,589,721
Georgia Tech $22,566,899
Notre Dame $4,252,766

3). THAT ALL MEDIA TAKE A ONE-WEEK BREAK FROM USING ANONYMOUS SOURCES. Everybody needs to take a breath. I’m going to admit, I’m growing weary of the hysteria. Sports Illustrated used to run a whimsical feature titled, “This week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us.” The New York Times and Washington Post have appropriated it for themselves – and they’re serious about it. The sky is falling when it comes to political reporting these days. I get it. What I’m not sure of is whether the sky is falling on the nation, or the media.

What I don’t get is why nobody can get anything on the record, or show any perspective in reporting it when they do. Instead, I get stories that are anonymously sourced, with a lot of hedged language, with major qualifiers used further down in the story, only to be used a day or two later as part of the framework for another story feeding into a narrative that has been only hinted at, but not proven.

I used to feel that when The New York Times ran a story, I could take it to the bank. Today, when The New York Times runs a story, I'm not even sure I can take it to the coffee shop. It could be true. It might be true. But you can’t know it’s true. And if that’s the case, then the media isn’t doing its job. The job is incomplete.

The Times threw us a bone in a story last week about FBI director James Comey being wary of President Donald Trump, quoting a friend of Comey on the record – Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution -- but even that story was unclear about whether the president was leaning on the FBI director or merely cozying up to him. Either way, upcoming hearings in congress should provide clarity.

My worry is that if the media doesn’t get this right, it has damaged itself irreparably. And, in fact, that damage may already be done by recent taking of political sides by just about every major mainstream media outlet.

I knew where this was headed days after Trump was sworn in. The Associated Press published a story that the Trump administration was considering mobilizing up to 100,000 National Guard Troops to take part in immigration roundups. Later, the reporter on that story Tweeted the internal memo she used to help build it.

The problem was that the document said no such thing. It proposed enlisting the training and aid of National Guard troops in support roles, where state leaders were willing, as a force multiplier in immigration enforcement efforts (presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also used the National Guard in limited domestic capacities). There were no “roundups” discussed. The number of troops was added up by the reporter as an estimate. But the mobilization of 100,000 troops on American soil would be unprecedented for a non-military operation. Only about 10,000, for example, were called to active duty in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

That number should’ve sent up red flags to an editor, but it did not. So papers and websites around the nation – including this one -- ran the story, headlined, “Trump considers mobilizing 100,000 National Guard Troops for immigration roundups,” or some variation. Later, after White House reaction, the AP tweaked the headline and clarified the lead just a bit. But Google that headline today and you’ll see, the main story dominates the results, serving to help set a tone in the early days of a new administration – on a flimsy proposition that not only was roundly denied and originally dubious, but also not true from the perspective of subsequent reality. (Moreover, not only was the number of troops merely speculation, but the president hadn’t considered it or even seen the memo, which turned out to be a draft that was rejected, according to the Department of Homeland Security, whose director hadn't even reviewed the memo.)

My point is that I’m in the media, and certain outlets, like The Times and the AP, I’ve read and trusted all my life. And I don’t trust them anymore, not like I used to. It’s not a matter of politics. I’m a big believer in letting the chips fall where they may. I’m not a big believer in setting up a narrative and then only reporting the chips that match that narrative. I can give many examples, from building off unnamed sources to trusting intelligence sources that have proven tragically wrong before.

I know, Watergate wouldn’t have been reported if not for unnamed sources. They have their place. But we’ve also seen them lead major news organizations into embarrassing mistakes. These are perilous times for media. I’m just saying a little more caution and a little less speculation might serve everyone well right now. In these tumultuous times, media overreach is not only irresponsible, it’s unnecessary, especially with a president who seems all to willing at times to bury himself. I shouldn’t finish news reports asking myself if I believe news reports or not. If the report is done right, there should be no question in the mind of the viewer or reader.

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