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Reporter says Krebs case highlights the many problems with college sports

University of New Mexico stadium
University of New Mexico stadium

Former University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs was found not guilty of embezzlement charges. He was accused of using public money for a lavish golf trip for donors.

It's unusual for an athletic director anywhere to face criminal charges for anything. That’s according to Daniel Libit, an investigative and enterprise reporter with Sportico. He’s been following the case and sat down with Senior Producer Lou DiVizio at New Mexico PBS two days before the verdict to talk about what it means for transparency and college sports. The full interview runs Friday night on New Mexico in Focus at 7 p.m. and is also online.

DANIEL LIBIT: When all of these issues were going on with the finances, in the athletic department, people were looking for a scapegoat. People were looking for an individual who had sort of ruined this perfectly running operation. And of course, the operation has struggled, it has labored in this sort of no man's land of college athletics, it is a mid-major program that is striving it financially to compete in an arena that it just cannot compete.

And in many ways, you know, what we have seen with the Scotland trip and the aftermath is a sort of microcosm or manifestation of that. I mean, this is really, you know, in totality much less about how Paul Krebs as an administrator behaved. The larger story is about college sports, and college sports in New Mexico and the relationship between college sports and higher ed. I think the first couple of days of testimony, one almost got the sense when former boosters or current boosters took the stand to defend the validity of the trip, almost to extol the trip as a reason why they have committed, in some cases, millions of dollars towards the athletic department, you know, it's possible that at least on the stand, this trip is going to be rehabilitated in the public image, to say nothing of whether or not Krebs is going to be found not guilty.

But the larger story is still there, which is how institutions respond to public scrutiny, and how they reconcile this very difficult conundrum of having a college athletic department, especially at an institution that is, you know, not in the upper echelons of college sports.

NEW MEXICO PBS: In your story you talk about what you see as a culture of secrecy inside many universities and athletic departments. And we've seen the consequences of that. You brought up the [Jerry]Sandusky case in Penn State, [Larry] Nassar at Michigan State. But what mechanisms have universities and athletic departments in particular used to hide information? And why from your perspective do those justifications break down?

LIBIT: Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they use are outside entities. The story is not just about the University of New Mexico, it's about the UNM Foundation, and the Lobo Club, these two outside entities that really are there only to serve the university. I'm involved in the story myself, I have filed lawsuits, public records lawsuits against, the UNM Foundation and a Lobo Club for records that are directly related to the Scotland scandal and the Krebs prosecution. One of those cases is currently before the Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled, I believe, for September 11. So what I recognized early on and reported on the Lobos, and as I've noticed in virtually every other institution of its kind, is this use of these outside entities to not only raise money for the institutions, but keep, and therefore keep secret, many of the records that pertain to the public business of a public university. Not just as an asset, and as a need for the public to be able to scrutinize the finances of its taxpayer funded institutions, but for the institution's themselves to operate at the highest caliber, you know, transparency does pay, even though in the short term, it might seem to the individuals running these institutions “Hmm, maybe it's better if we keep certain things secret.”

NMPBS: When it comes to this specific case, should people expect it to be a precedent when it all ends? Do you think that seeing criminal charges for the first time will give universities like UNM more pause when using that “Keep it in-house” mentality?

LIBIT: That would be a nice thought. It doesn't seem to be the reflex. There's been plenty of other instances where universities should be recognized -- and it's not just universities. It's just you know, our elected officials and our public servants should recognize a value and an ethic for transparency and ignore it. Again, all of these things theoretically sound good, and then there's an individual in the seat of scrutiny, and they have the decision, whether or not to be the ones to potentially make their own jobs more difficult and give themselves headaches. And traditionally, it seems that they often decide, “Not I.” And so we just repeat the cycle over and over again. I think certainly UNM – this is probably reverberating regardless of what the verdict is. But you know, different circumstances will come along and, and different individuals will have their own rationale for why, you know, they shouldn't be the ones to step forward and be open and transparent.

Lou DiVizio is senior producer of public affairs at New Mexico PBS.
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