By Mariana Chrisney SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators supporting a first-ever audit of the University of Utah athletics program say they are looking for ways to lower tuition, but fans and opposing legislators are claiming the audit has a BYU rivalry subtext.
That’s an easy card to play, given the U.’s recent decision to cancel a basketball game against BYU next season, a decision that riled fans of both schools and will cost the U. a cancellation fee.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper and
a BYU alum, supports the audit, but so does Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who questions whether the athletics department has become too powerful. McCay is not a BYU alum and he even tweeted a picture of a Ute tie and wrote, “Fun weekend, Utes, wearing this tomorrow … ”
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, expressed his outrage on social media. “Legislature’s revenge for U of U not playing basketball game against BYU? How about an audit on (expletive deleted) political audits?” he wrote on the Utah Progressives blog. “Playing political games with taxpayer’s money is not a fiscal conservative thing to do!”
The Legislative Audit Subcommittee targeted the University of Utah for the audit, which will continue until the end of the year.
Geoff Johnston, a BYU sportswriter for loyalcougars.com, tweeted “Why are Ute fans so up in arms over an audit? Are audits really that rare over there?” he wrote. “If so, that’s gotta be worrisome to Utah tax payers.”
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, spoke about his concerns regarding the audit. “We did not think about the rivalry, it was the last thing on my mind,” he said.
Davis explained his mindset during an audit meeting. “I’m more concerned about getting (University of Utah’s) tuition down, so poor people can afford to go to school,” he said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, was quoted on Twitter about why the U.’s athletic department is being audited. “The controversy created in our minds a need to have a look.”
University of Utah’s Athletics Director Chris Hill made an official statement about the audit. “Our role is not to be concerned with why an audit is coming in, just to provide the information,” he said. “When recommendations are made, it’s our job to get better.”
There have been no official statements regarding any tension between BYU and U of U. Hill went on to say, “We want to be a good representative of the University and we are committed to transparency.”