Gold-Plated Witherspoon? Hiring the Former UB Coach Costs ECC Plenty By Peter Livingston














It is good to be Reggie Witherspoon. The Erie Community College graduate worked hard and became the head coach of the State University of New York at Buffalo Bulls basketball team. After twelve years leading the Division One team, he was suddenly released this spring. It wasn't his fault; a new athletic director wanted to move in a different direction. It happens at all levels of sport. Witherspoon left with three years remaining on his contract. UB is responsible for paying this contract, as long as Witherspoon does not get another coaching job during this time.

I read recently in the Buffalo News that Witherspoon was offered a position at the place where his college career started: ECC. Witherspoon reportedly accepted a vice president level job, with full control over the athletic department. The position will have Athletic Director authority at that level, and will report directly to the President.

This seems like an odd move by ECC. The college already has an Athletic Director, who reportedly will remain employed. Either there will be a duplication of efforts, or ECC is adding a job so that each man can work half as hard. Or maybe one man will work just as hard, and the other will spend his time smiling a lot and being the face of ECC athletics.

Regardless, there seems to be a lot of focus on athletics at a school whose assessment practices troubled a national accrediting group, is losing students to other community colleges with more expansive academic offerings (particularly nursing) and is reported to be facing admissions shortfalls for this fall.

It appears that the salary for an ECC vice president is around $132,000. That's a lot of money to add to payroll, especially when there is already an athletic director in place. Looking at ECC's website, they appear to have thirteen athletic teams with 291 athletes on the rosters. They used to have more teams and athletes. A couple of years ago, they cut men and women's golf, cross country, track and field and indoor track. This past spring, they cut swimming and diving. The sum total of savings for cutting these sports is under $50,000 per year.

At the time, defending the board's decision to cut the sports, ECC President Jack Quinn said "those young men and women, they can still golf or run... I'm not cutting off their ability to recreate." True. But by hiring a redundant Vice President for Athletics, the board may be cutting off some students' ability to learn. Spending $132,000 on Witherspoon means that ECC won't have that money to spend on teachers, microscopes or books.

By comparison, Buffalo State College pays its Athletic Director $139,000 per year. Buffalo State is a Division Three school, not as prestigious as UB, which is Division One. ECC is Division None. Buffalo State boasts 439 athletes in sixteen sports, considerably more than ECC. Their athletic director does not report to a redundant vice president whose sole responsibility is to oversee sports. Further, their athletic director is also head coach of the football team.

But the former Bulls coach cannot coach at ECC without voiding his contract with UB. And UB owes him a lot of money. The Buffalo News reports the school owes Witherspoon between $750,000 and $1 million for the remaining three years of his contract. Taking the lower end of the figure, SUNY will be paying Reggie Witherspoon $382,000 per year to do the same job as an athletic director, who will still be working at the college. The school will be paying Witherspoon just over $1,300 per athlete, $450 of which comes from ECC's budget.

Given that the annual tuition for ECC is $3,995, that is a significant spend for the services of one person. I'll bet the faculty and staff at ECC wish that they could get $1,300 for each student they serve at the school.

I am curious to know the results of any cost/benefit analysis that the board did before deciding to add a Vice President to oversee athletics. Given the school's recent difficulties, it seems somewhat odd to choose athletics as a focus. Further, given the years that its faculty and staff have gone without a contract, this cannot help morale. The athletes whose sports were cut to save $50,000 per year are surely somewhat confused by this new six-figure position.

Perhaps no cost/benefit analysis was performed. Some people wonder whether Witherspoon was offered the job because he is a friend and/or client of an ECC board member. Regardless, his hiring begs a lot of questions.

I do not fault Witherspoon for pursuing the position at ECC. He certainly has valuable skills from his long tenure at a Division One school. Further, I am sure that he wants to keep those skills sharp until he can land another coaching job. He was a man of character at UB and will bring that with him wherever he works. I do, however, question the decision for ECC to add a high dollar redundant job when the money might be better spent addressing more immediate priorities.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I also comment occasionally on Twitter @PRLivingston.




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