EXCLUSIVE: Nebraska Athletic Director Covered Up Multi-Million Dollar Gift to Eliminate Men's Swimming -- June 29, 2001
By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, June 29. AN investigation by swiminfo and Swimming World magazine has uncovered startling new information about the decision to cut men’s swimming at the University of Nebraska.
Several reliable sources allege that at the time University of Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne was announcing his decision to eliminate the Cornhuskers’ men’s swimming program last April, the university had already concluded negotiations to accept a multi-million dollar gift from communications giant, All-Tel Corporation. Byrne cited financial reasons for eliminating the 70 year-old men’s swim program, whose budget comprised just over one percent of Nebraska’s athletic budget.
Byrne, who previously served as Athletic Director of the University of Oregon before coming to Lincoln, also cut men’s swimming at that university.
According to these same sources, negotiations which had gone on for several months, were completed no later than early March - more than a month before the decision to eliminate the swimming program was announced.
These sources indicate that a decision was made to withhold the announcement of the gift of approximately $8 million until late summer for two reasons: so no one would say that the money was, in fact, available when the decision was made to eliminate men’s swimming; and to coincide with the beginning of the football season.
A telephone call to All-Tel CEO Joe Ford in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the company’s corporate headquarters are located, was referred to Jessica Brogdon, chair of the committee that reviews all corporate contributions. Brogdon commented: "I don’t know anything about such a gift, but I will look into it and get back to you."
Dwayne Hebda, a spokesman for All-Tel’s corporate giving in Nebraska, said: "I have no details (on the gift) at this time. We are deferring to the university for all announcements about it."
In a telephone conversation, University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman commented: "I am not prepared to confirm or deny that such a gift exists nor, if it does exist, whether or not I knew about it at the time the decision was made to prune men’s swimming."
"I can say that if such a gift existed and I knew about it at the time, it would not have impacted our decision (to cut men’s swimming)."
Athletic Director Bill Byrne did not return our calls.