Critics: UCF Athletics' Lazy River 'Total Waste' of Money

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Training spaces tricked out with two-story slides and miniature golf courses have caught a lot of attention in collegiate athletics circles, but critics contend the money to build such luxuries could be better spent elsewhere.

Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization that tracks spending at colleges, told the Orlando Sentinel that projects such as the University of Central Florida's plans to build a lazy river as part of a so-called student-athlete "recovery cove," made possible through a $1 million private donation, need to be scrutinized. 

“One should never treat a donor’s generosity with anything except gratitude, but having said that, schools need to use some reasonable discretion both of what they accept and what they’re soliciting,” said Poliakoff, who wrestled at Yale University during the early 1970s. “Schools do have the ability to shape a philanthropic vision."

UCF said the lazy river, which is due to open outside of Spectrum Stadium in time for the 2020 football season, will be about 500 feet long, with two attached pools of roughly 1,600 and 1,000 square feet.

In addition to allowing access to student-athletes, the university plans to sell as many as 250 annual “Covegating” memberships, advertised at $2,500 per person, providing access to the lazy river for three to four hours before each regular-season home game, as well as food, drink, inner tubes and parking.

Donor Tom McNamara, a UCF alum who has attended every home football game with his wife for the past 30 years, said he envisions the cove as a gathering place for athletics teams, close to where they practice and many live. The school’s existing leisure pool, he pointed out, is about a mile away on the other end of campus.

Poliakoff sees the water attraction as an extravagance. â€śThere has been a real arms race on facilities and luxuries," he said. “It’s very, very ill-advised and wrong-headed.”

And he's not alone. Gerald Gurney, former president of the Drake Group, which is critical of spending in college athletics, called the lazy river project â€śnothing short of just total and unadulterated waste.”

"Let’s not kid ourselves — the building of this facility has nothing to do whatsoever with the current athletes and everything to do with the recruitment of future athletes,” he said.

“It’s poor stewardship,” Gurney, an assistant professor in the adult and higher education department at the University of Oklahoma, added. "The college president first and foremost should be devoted to advancing their institution through scholarship and developing the best possible teaching environment for the citizens of the state of Florida. This is absolute nonsense that has nothing whatsoever to do with education.”

But Ellen Staurowsky, professor of sport management at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Sentinel although these showy additions are attention-grabbing, athletic spending usually accounts for a fraction of a university’s overall budget. At UCF, it’s just less than 3 percent of the university’s $1.7 billion operating budget. Most Division I schools hover in that range, Staurowsky said.

“For the value, there are people that will argue that it really isn’t a disproportionate investment,” she said.

Said McNamara of his gift, “I looked at it as not just a one-time donation, but a donation that will keep giving for years to come."

“Donors invest in what they are passionate about," UCF Board of Trustees chairwoman Beverly Seay wrote in an email to the Sentinel. “As a donor at UCF and other institutions, I have invested in academics and athletics because both support students and advance the university’s excellence and reputation. The McNamara family’s generous gift will generate revenue for UCF’s athletics program. Other robust philanthropic efforts are focused on academics and student scholarships.”

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