Senators: U. athletics shouldn't have been audited

Published: Feb. 6, 2017 11:20 a.m.Updated: Feb. 6, 2017 2:10 p.m..

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers should apologize for auditing the University of Utah Athletics Department, Sen. Jim Dabakis said Monday during a review of the findings to the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The November 2016 report by the Legislative Auditor General's Office was ordered a year ago after Utah Utes basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak and the school's athletic director canceled the team's contracted game with the BYU Cougars.

"I am hoping (U. Athletics Director) Chris Hill will get a giant apology for paying this price, for being dragged through the mud in the media and other places for an audit that just should not have happened," the Salt Lake Democrat said.

The Senate chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he agreed the audit shouldn't have been sought.

"I personally don't want to revisit the reason for the audit," Vickers said. "I agree. I don't think the audit should have been called for, but it was. I think our auditors did an excellent job. They were very professional in their approach."

Vickers said the "end result was some good, constructive information. So I think we just need to move forward."

The House and Senate leaders who serve on the Legislature's Audit Subcommittee voted unanimously in February 2016 to audit the U. athletics department amid a push for lawmakers to mandate a game between the two teams.

The U. men's basketball coach said at the time that the schedule change was needed as a "cooling-off period" for rivalry emotions escalating toward "potential for serious injury."

But BYU coach Dave Rose said the decision made no sense, and in his 32 years of coaching on various levels, he had never had a school back out of a game.

The audit found that Krystkowiak had paid $20,000 of the $80,000 cancellation fee he vowed to personally cover for breaking a contract to play BYU last year, but it could not be verified whether he used personal or donated funds.

While the audit noted that U. athletics has kept expenses the lowest among Pac-12 schools, there was also a caution about spending more money than is available to keep up with the competition.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who voted for the audit last year, said Monday he believes "it was very productive. There were some good results. We found out things work pretty well."

Niederhauser said there are a lot of areas of government that have not be subjected to a legislative audit, "and while some may have felt this was punishment, my voting for it was to have a look."

Another member of the audit subcommittee, Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he hopes some of the findings about U. athletics will be considered by other universities and colleges in the state.

During Monday's budget meeting, Dabakis asked auditors how much was spent on what he labeled a "preposterous audit that was done for a foolish reason as punishment. Those are the facts. It's sad when an audit is ordered by a legislative body as a punishment."

He told the auditors he wanted "to say how ashamed I am of the Legislature for proposing this audit, for putting that burden on you, costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars."

Auditors said they would report back on the exact cost of the audit.

Dabakis offered his own apology for the audit, calling the process "an ugly black mark" and said the U. needed to stand up for its staff "when ridiculous things happen."