Viewpoint Benedict speaks after rattling Boneyard
STORRS — David Benedict says he has no problem with Ray Allen speaking out about Kevin Ollie. Nor does he have a problem with UConn fans speaking out about his views on football attendance.
The UConn athletic director has no beef with Jesus Shuttlesworth for calling on UConn “to make it right” by Ollie. Nor, he says, does he have a beef with an even higher authority: those who buy — or might buy — UConn season tickets.
As he sipped his morning coffee Friday inside the UConn bookstore, Benedict was a man ready for vacation. He knows when he returns, the Great Family Dispute and empty seats at Rentschler Field will be there waiting.
These are ticklish days at UConn. The ugly fight over Ollie’s firing “with cause” is headed for arbitration. It’s an all-or-nothing decision. UConn pays Ollie more than $10 million remaining on his contract. Or UConn pays zilch. An epic defeat would reflect badly on Benedict, and UConn President Susan Herbst. Total victory, while harsh in the strict application of Ollie’s contract, would satisfy those who believe Ollie did a horrible job the past few years and who assert that UConn, without Power Five cartel gold, is facing crushing financial burdens.
Jumping into that divide, proclaiming himself on both sides, Allen told reporters Thursday at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he didn’t believe Ollie “did anything wrong that’s detrimental to the university.”
Allen also called for a deal in which both sides make concessions. He doesn’t want it potentially dragging into court after arbitration, draining a state’s mojo.
“Both parties need to come to terms to make the situation go away,” Allen said.
Mediation. Something. A mutual resolution is a position I have advocated for months. But this is Ray Allen talking. He’s going into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The state proclaimed Thursday to be Ray Allen Day. He’s a Connecticut idol. He’s also a former teammate and close friend of Ollie, while serving on the UConn Foundation board of directors. He’s is a walking, talking conflict of interest, of course, but also one who loves Ollie and his alma mater.
“I don’t have any problem with what Ray said,” said Benedict, who confirmed he had a conversation with Allen on the Ollie situation. “Ray needs to have a voice. This is a very important thing for him. Ray’s not just a former basketball player, he’s committing his time and energy to advance the university by being part of the foundation. Ray’s very engaged.
“He’s an important part of this family. I have a great deal of respect for Ray. Certainly, I respect his feelings.”
Now, can the sides reach a freaking resolution before they burn down Gampel Pavilion and further scorch reputations? Or how about this? On a day when the athletic department confirmed a Hartford Courant report that donations ($5.5 million) were the highest in five years and that the UConn Foundation had raised a total of $14.1 million for athletics, including gifts, maybe some of that $2.1 million improvement over the previous fiscal year can go to Ollie.
Now, David, about that recent quote in the Manchester Journal Inquirer: “It’s really about creating an accountability with our fan base to have them take some ownership, just like (Randy Edsall) is trying to get his team to take some ownership and be accountable for what they’re doing.”
Some in the Boneyard, the UConn fans’ discussion board, thought Benedict was placing blame for a half-empty Rentschler Field on the fans. Fan shaming, if you will. I got a handful of emails and Twitter messages. Some were not happy with Benedict and prodded me to get Benedict to explain himself.
I got lots of opinions on this topic, but today I’m here to serve.
“I don’t read the Boneyard every day and I haven’t got any letters from anybody,” Benedict said. “I was informed there was an article about (how Benedict doesn’t understand the UConn fan base) in ‘A Dime Back.’ Since I’ve been here, I would challenge people to say we haven’t made an effort to improve the fan experience, to make tickets affordable. We’ve reduced concession prices, reduced ticket prices, changed some absurd parking procedures to allow people to tailgate together (earlier). We made a coaching change. I think we’re doing everything we possibly can to try to get our football program competitive.”
I am here to serve.
“I have made it very clear,” Benedict said. “Winning solves most problems. But there’s a chicken-and-egg piece to this and what I’m asking is, let’s build it together. When we bring recruits to our game and the stadium is not full, that has an impact. We bring in a competitive team and the stadium is half full, you don’t have a home-field advantage. Maybe I didn’t say it clear enough. The fan base plays a significant role in building a competitive football program. We need our fans. I also can’t force anyone to come.
“We’ve got to get better. We acknowledge it. That’s where it takes some cooperation and commitment from the fans, where it’s ‘We want to be part of building it with you,’ as opposed to ‘Hey, I’ll show up when you start winning.’ We need some people who will partner with us. We very much appreciate our core of fans who are committed, rain, snow, win, lose.”
I am here to serve.
“Look, we have self-inflicted a lot of pain on ourselves with some of our ticket and priority seating policies,” Benedict said. “They are going to change. We shouldn’t be re-seating people every year in basketball. At one time, when I wasn’t here, maybe it was appropriate. It’s not appropriate anymore. If we have people committed to season tickets, we shouldn’t force them to change seats because someone’s willing to pay more money. That has been a source of consternation and been offensive to our fan base. There’s got to be some loyalty.”
I am here to serve.
“If you’re competing for conference championships, I’d like to think we can fill our place,” Benedict said. “No, my only perspective isn’t Auburn, where I was for two years. I’m not ignorant to the fact that the Northeast is a different place. Look at BC (35,924 average last year) and Syracuse (33,929). Measure us (a Rentschler low of 20,334) against regional-appropriate peers vs. thinking I’m comparing our program to the SEC.
“If I’m pushing our fan base a little and they’re upset about it, I can appreciate that. At the same time, I’m not going to just sit back, see our place half full and say we’re OK. Randy Edsall is not saying to his team 4-8 is OK. That’s the message I want to convey to our fans. If you want to be great, you’ve got to push.”