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Taking hard shots at the world of academia is nothing new for conservative Charlie Sykes, who wrote a scathing book about university professors back in the 1980s.
Sykes, the longtime WTMJ-AM (620) talk radio host, was at it again recently when he riffed on the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the team’s upcoming trip to the Rose Bowl, the team’s first to the Pasadena, Calif., event since 2000.
His target: UW’s plan to pay trip costs for outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle, UW Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, members of the UW Board of Regents and other university officials as part of the official Rose Bowl traveling party.
"Jim Doyle is getting one last junket out of it," Sykes said on the air Dec. 15, 2010.
Sykes mocked UW’s $2.2 million Rose Bowl budget, suggesting it was inappropriate when deficits loom over the state budget. He read aloud from a Journal Sentinel story on the trip costs, reciting that the $2.2 million would cover expenses for players, coaches and the UW band -- plus an estimated 43 people in the "official" traveling group including Doyle.
He then noted that UW expected to get a $2.7 million payout from bowl games, including the Bowl Championship Series, of which the Rose Bowl is a part.
Sykes then made a leap worthy of Badgers wide receiver Nick Toon:
"So basically," he said, "they are using almost all the payout for a junket for the politically well connected types."
Sykes then moved on to another topic.
But this one is interesting in its own right. And PolitiFact doesn’t just look at politicians or elected officials. It will take on anyone who speaks up in the civic discourse, even if their radio station is owned by the same company (Journal Communications Inc.) that owns the Journal Sentinel.
So, is Big Red really blowing most of its bowl take on well-connected suits?
In a word: No.
When we asked Sykes for support for his claim -- a standard first stop in the items we do -- he quickly backed off.
"The only politically connect(ed) hack I know is going is Jim Doyle (and maybe some of the regents)," Sykes wrote in an e-mail that he also posted on his SykesWrites blog. "My ‘evidence’? Absolutely none."
Sykes went on to label his remark "an off-hand wisecrack" -- "You know, humor, hyperbole, joke."
UW Athletic Department officials weren’t amused.
They said it was way off to suggest that most of the bowl money would pay for officials and high rollers. They are still formulating the trip budget and don’t have precise figures, but it will closely mirror last year’s trip to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, according to Justin Doherty, an assistant athletic director.
For that trip, some 700 people were involved, about 100 players and 275 band members, plus spirit squad members, coaches, trainers, security, support staff and family members. Various UW administrative officials also were in that group. Doyle did not go.
To be sure, that’s a huge crew for a football game -- and this year’s group will likely swell because the Rose Bowl requires a bigger band.
So let’s say it’s 750 for Pasadena, of whom 43 are officials from the regents, the UW Athletic Board, the chancellor’s office and elsewhere.
That means the "official" traveling party is about 6 percent of the total group, which would translate into about $132,000 of the Rose Bowl budget of $2.2 million.
It’s a rough calculation, but by anybody’s math that’s not close to burning up the Badgers’ $2.2 million Rose Bowl budget, much less the larger bowl-game payout from the Big Ten.
And that amount may even far more than those Sykes cited. He narrowed his attack to "political types" on the Doyle-appointed Board of Regents (12 are signed up to go) and the governor himself.
Plus the suits will not be in Pasadena as long (four nights) as the jocks (eight or nine nights).
Sykes’s remarks also suggested taxpayers would suffer because of the "junket." But the Rose Bowl funds flow from revenue generated by bowl games that feature teams from the Big Ten conference -- not tax dollars.
Here are the X’s and O’s on the money flow:
Eight Big Ten teams made it to the postseason this year. That’s expected to generate $44.5 million for the conference, according to Scott Chipman, the conference’s assistant commissioner of communication. The Rose Bowl alone brings $21.2 million.
From that $44.5 million pot, the Big Ten will pay the bowl schools -- collectively -- $14 million in traveling expenses. (Bucky gets $2.25 million for Rose Bowl expenses, a figure that’s set by the Big Ten).
Split the remaining $30.5 million among all 11 conference teams and that means each team gets about $2.77 million over and above their expenses. That means that between the $2.77 million and the expenses of $2.25 million for the Rose Bowl, there is $5 million coming in from bowl-related payments.
So the Badgers could clear $2.77 million from the bowl season, unless they blow their budget. That has happened before -- at UW’s 1999 Rose Bowl appearance, when the athletic department shelled out $200,000 due to cost overruns. Then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican, UW officials and alumni were part of the entourage that year.
Normally we sum up before turning loose the Truth-O-Meter, but it hardly seems necessary in this case.
Sykes told his listeners and followers of his blog Friday that he thought the Journal Sentinel would have bigger fish to fry than a "tidbit" on the Rose Bowl. But he didn’t fight the facts, or lack thereof.
"Politifact busts me (sort of)" Sykes posted on Twitter.
And he cheerfully e-mailed us to have at it: "All I want for Christmas is a "Pants on Fire!" in my stocking!"
Your Christmas wish is granted, Charlie. The Truth-O-Meter is glowing Badger red.
Pants on Fire.
Charlie Sykes, podcast for Dec. 15, 2010
E-mail interview with Charlie Sykes, host, Midday with Charlie Sykes, Dec. 17, 2010
Interview with Vince Sweeney, UW vice chancellor for university relations, Dec. 15, 2010
Interview with Justin Doherty, UW assistant athletic director for university relations, Dec. 16, 2010
Interview with Scott Chipman, Big Ten Conference assistant commissioner of communication, Dec. 16, 2010
Interview with John Paquette, BCS spokesman, Dec. 15, 2010
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