Tom Brennan, who announced today that he will step down as La Salle's athletic director, is just the latest school employee who never felt all of those positive effects the school's basketball team was supposed to provide.
For anybody who clings to the notion that colleges are justified in investing students' tuition dollars to build a Division I program in football or men's basketball, La Salle's run to the Sweet 16 three years ago should have been a prime example of why academic institutions should continue to involve themselves in the business of for-profit athletics.
By winning a pair of basketball games, La Salle generated an incalculable amount of publicity that otherwise would have been out of reach for a small, regional Catholic school that lacks much in the way of defining characteristics. That was certainly the feeling inside the Explorers athletic department. The school handed head coach John Giannini a three-year contract extension, and Brennan raised the possibility of building a new on-campus basketball facility.
"Even having one good season has led to, I would say, some very serious discussions about the basketball venue -- very serious discussions," Brennan said in an interview with the Inquirer seven months after the Explorers' run ended with a loss to Wichita State in a regional semifinal.
Yet earlier today -- just three years after that supposed boon of an NCAA Tournament run -- news broke that Brennan is stepping down after nearly two decades at the helm of the athletic department. La Salle has not been back to the tournament in either of the last two seasons, and they certainly aren't going this year after falling to 5-18 with an 88-62 thrashing at the hands of St. Joe's on Saturday.
More significantly, the school has been plagued by financial problems. New president Colleen Hanycz arrived for the 2015-16 year and inherited $16 million budget shortfall and a 16 percent decline in freshman enrollment. Those factors prompted her to lay off 23 employees, nearly three percent of its staff, including the school's assistant vice president for marketing and communications and its primary PR spokesman.
That La Salle was even thinking about the possibility of spending money on a new basketball arena just two years before the proverbial hitting of the fan should serve as a serious eye-opener to anybody who continues to insist that university presidents are doing right by their students, faculty and staff by investing increasingly scarce revenue to pursue their dream of hearing Jim Nantz show a cut shot of them sitting in the crowd.
Again, the timeline:
1. La Salle wins tournament games.
2. La Salle gives head basketball coach more money.
3. La Salle lays of 23 employees and sees freshman enrollment decline 16 percent.
4. Athletic director resigns.
Temple, take note.